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EU: Sweetened Terms Proposed For Eastern Countries

The European Union has presented a sweetened financial offer to the 10 countries expected to join the bloc in 2004, drawing praise from some candidates. The offer provides more aid for farmers, border modernization, and nuclear safety. But not all problems are now overcome.

Prague, 27 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union has made a rare financial concession to the 10 candidate countries that are negotiating to enter the union in 2004.

Responding to persistent criticism from candidates over the entry terms being offered, EU president Denmark has offered an extra 2.5 billion euros and some larger agriculture quotas. The Danes have said that the candidates will pay about 1.7 billion euros less than expected into the EU budget in the first year, partly because they will be joining four months later than originally planned. The extra costs of the Danish offer will amount to 1.3 billion euros more than what was agreed by EU leaders at their Brussels summit last month.

It's more correct to say that Denmark -- rather than the EU -- has made the offer. Reports say that key EU states, notably Germany, France, and Britain, have expressed opposition to the more generous terms. But diplomats say they expect a joint meeting of foreign ministers early next month to essentially accept the deal. The candidates expect to receive formal invitations to join the EU at the Copenhagen summit that starts on 13 December.

Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, which holds the EU presidency, said the revised offer shows a "sincere desire to compromise." Poland's Prime Minister Leszek Miller said the new offer is "a clear improvement," but does not "exhaust the problems." Czech chief negotiator Pavel Telicka gave measured praise, but, like the Poles, he wants to see the EU do more.

London-based analyst Heather Grabbe of the Centre for European Reform said it is "quite encouraging" that the EU has managed to find some extra money from within the budget. "It is still not a huge amount of money, but it will make a considerable difference to the candidate countries, and it's encouraging that the EU has managed to show some flexibility, at least in providing extra money in areas like nuclear safety and border control."

But Grabbe said the decision of the EU member states to hand out extra cash is not motivated by pure altruism. She points out the financial concessions include more money for border controls and nuclear safety -- both of great benefit to existing members. "[It's] true that both of those areas [border controls and nuclear safety] are a priority for the EU as much as for the candidates, so there is a certain amount of self-interest going on here, where the EU is providing more money. [It] is the kind of money [the existing EU members] can justify to [their] own public, as benefiting them, and increasing their security by improving the candidates' border controls and improving the safety of the nuclear-power plants."

Noting the opposition among EU members to the more generous terms, Grabbe said that some of them are still grumbling about the cost of enlargement and trying to reassure their own populations that they will not be out of pocket. Grabbe said that in her view, the complainers are missing the point. "In fact, the total cost of enlargement is very low, and I think it is indicative of their failure to explain to the public what a bargain this enlargement is going to be, and how much of the costs have actually been borne by the candidate states, that they are even arguing about this small amount of extra money."

Brussels-based independent analyst Stefan Maarteel described the new offer as "important," and as a step in the right direction. "This money now, I believe, is to ensure that the new members will not lose any money when they enter the EU, that it will be a winning position for them. Otherwise, it's impossible to motivate the populations of these countries."

But Maarteel said the slight improvement in entry terms makes little difference in the long run. How to finance the EU's very expensive Common Agricultural Policy with 10 new members remains a real and continuing problem. "The real problems remain, of course. The real problems are related to the reform of the agricultural policy, how everything will be paid in the future. At the moment it is already over half of the [EU] budget, and it is sustaining a sector which really does not have any future because, in the long-term, we in Europe will have to open our markets to third-world countries, of course."