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EU: Officials Told Candidates That EU Enlargement Terms Are Non-Negotiable

Presidents and prime ministers from EU candidate countries were invited to Copenhagen yesterday to be informed of the bloc's terms for enlargement by its current Danish presidency and the European Commission. The terms were worked out at last week's Brussels summit, where EU leaders agreed to a compromise on the costs of enlargement and other outstanding issues. Candidate leaders were told in Copenhagen that the EU's position is non-negotiable, although small individual adjustments are possible.

Brussels, 29 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The intended purpose of yesterday's meeting between the EU candidate countries and the EU presidency and European Commission was to explain the results of the EU summit in Brussels last week.

As things turned out, however, yesterday's meeting in Copenhagen was used by EU representatives mostly to explain the futility of questioning any of the core aspects of the deal reached by EU leaders after two days of intense bargaining.

After the meeting, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen indicated that the candidates should appreciate the very existence of the deal and not quibble over details. "This result was not reached easily. But the fact that it happened shows us that the present member states do stand by their commitment to finalize negotiations by the end of this year. That is very encouraging. But it also makes it clear that the room for maneuver in negotiations will be very limited. We must find solutions within the framework of the Berlin financial perspective," Rasmussen said.

At first glance, Rasmussen's words appear to miss the point. No candidate country questions the limits set by the EU's budget for the period 2000-2006 at the Berlin summit in 1999. Rather, what the new entrants want is equal treatment under the next 2007-2013 budget.

Yet this is precisely what the EU Brussels deal is meant to preclude. Rasmussen's reference to Berlin is a reference to the decision in Brussels to freeze farm spending in the next budgetary period at 2006 levels, in other words, within the ceilings set for the current budget cycle.

Fixed ceilings mean that for the new entrants to receive farm subsidies, the old members must give some up first. Last week's EU summit decided that this can only happen slowly, and it offered new members parity in 2013.

Rasmussen made that clear a little later, responding to a direct question on whether the 2013 deadline could be brought closer. "Frankly speaking, I don't think it's the most realistic point. We have a certain framework, and we stick to it. But within this framework, we are able and willing to show flexibility to solve specific problems in each of the candidate countries," Rasmussen said.

This framework is also likely to limit the new members' access to the EU's structural and cohesion funds, which make up more than a third of its budget, although here the details remain unclear.

Similarly, the EU says it will not drop the demand for "safeguard measures" allowing it to bar new member states from parts of the internal market for more than three years initially, should any of them fail to comply with EU law.

In compensation, the EU offers to meet most of the candidates' less substantial individual demands, pointing out their relevance for local public opinion.

Guenter Verheugen, the EU's enlargement commissioner, yesterday used the example of Estonia, although he refrained from naming the country. "I would say that all of the candidate countries still have some politically sensitive points which have nothing to do with money and which have nothing to do with safeguard clauses. I'll give you one example, but I could give you dozens. One candidate country has a high population in its forests of bears and lynxes, and, of course, our directive does not allow [the hunting of] these precious animals. But it's a tradition in the country, and they have too many of them; their stock has to be controlled. So, this is one of the problems for the public opinion in that particular country. We have dozens and dozens of these issues which we have kept for the endgame," Verheugen said.

The only area where the European Union is known to be prepared to offer what officials term "horizontal" concessions -- on issues that concern all of the candidates -- is agricultural-production quotas. Touring candidate capitals in recent weeks and months, the EU's farm commissioner, Franz Fischler, has dropped thinly veiled hints that the quotas offered by the commission in January -- found mostly unsatisfactory by the candidates -- could be improved.

Negotiators from all the 10 front-runners are invited to Brussels today to begin what Verheugen described as "individual and bilateral" talks. These talks are expected to last seven weeks and will be wrapped up at the Copenhagen summit in mid-December.