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EU: Danish Presidency Launches Last-Ditch Effort To Finalize Enlargement

Danish officials have launched a last-ditch campaign to get the 15 EU member states and the 10 leading candidate countries to agree on the financial terms of enlargement before the Copenhagen summit on 12-13 December.

Brussels, 27 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A Danish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the EU's current Danish presidency had taken the unusual move of drawing up a compromise offer without the full backing of all of the 15 member states. He said this was unavoidable, as "time is extremely short," and added that having the 15 member states and the 10 candidate countries discuss these extremely complicated issues in Copenhagen was not a "recipe for a successful summit."

The official repeatedly said Denmark considers the new offer "very fair" to the candidates and the current EU members alike. He admitted the offer goes beyond what EU leaders agreed on at the Brussels summit in mid-October, and even exceeds in some respects what the European Commission tentatively offered the candidates in January.

The Danish offer increases what the new members' will receive between 2004-06 by about 2.5 billion euros. The candidates will get an extra 900 million euros to strengthen their non-EU borders and accelerate their preparations for joining the EU's visa-free Schengen system. Another 600 million euros will go to increase nuclear safety in the new member states -- an offer from which Lithuania's Ignalina and Slovakia's Bohunice power plants will benefit the most.

Finally, a one-time payment of 1 billion euros will be made to the new members in 2004 allowing them to top up direct farm subsidies. These remain fixed at 25, 30, and 35 percent of EU levels in 2004, 2005, and 2006 respectively, but the "top-up" facility will bring them up to about 40 percent each year.

The Danish offer also says the new members' share of direct subsidies will keep going up regardless of whether the EU reforms its agricultural policy or not. This means that theoretically, should the EU decide to cut subsidies after 2006, the new members will catch up with the current EU member states a number of years before the present 2013 deadline.

According to the offer, direct payments can also be topped up from the generous "rural-development" funds offered to the new members which normally cannot be used for such payments.

In addition, the Danish official said Denmark had done "hard work" on agricultural-production quotas, which are of critical importance for most candidates. Although the EU's World Trade Organization commitments set clear limits as to what can be offered to the new members, the quotas offered earlier have now been "rounded-up" in many cases, and the best reference years were often considered instead of the normal practice of using the average production over a period of 3-5 years.

Denmark's offer also says all new member states interested in imposing curbs on land sales to foreigners can do so for seven years after they join the EU, and can extend the measures for a further three years with the approval of the European Commission.

Finally, a host of more minor individual concessions is being offered to each of the candidates.

The Danish official noted that the financial terms of the proposal especially favor the poorer candidates like the Baltic countries and Poland, adding that as concessions to some candidates draw additional demands from others, the offer may need to be "re-balanced" somewhat.

The official said the proposal had been given a "rough reception" by the current member states earlier this week (25 November), many of whom criticized what they called the excessive "extravagance" of the Danish offer. He said most of the opposition comes from the net contributors into the EU budget, led by Germany. German sources have told RFE/RL that Germany's resistance is not a tactical ploy to make the deal more attractive for the candidates, suggesting that Germany will withhold approval until at least the Copenhagen summit. However, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen hopes to win over most of the critics during his pre-summit tour of EU capitals starting on 2 December, and will argue the proposal is necessary to bring accession negotiations to an end.

The Danish diplomat said the reception among the candidates -- whose negotiators were in Brussels yesterday -- was in most cases "the mirror image" of how member states had reacted. However, some -- presumably Poland, although the Danish official did not mention countries by name -- tried to "pick out the cherries" in the offer and continue talks on other areas.

The official said Denmark had made it "very clear" that given the scant support to the proposal among member states, it would refuse to negotiate on such a basis. He then pointedly emphasized that the offer means, for example, that Poland would get 1 1/2 times as much from the EU in 2004 than it did in 2003, double its receipts in 2005 and triple them in 2006.

Danish diplomats and European Commission officials will next meet candidate negotiators on 2-3 December.