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EU: Enlargement Talks Enter Final Stretch

Brussels, 9 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Foreign ministers from the 10 leading EU candidate countries are locked in negotiations in Brussels today with the bloc's current Danish presidency, trying to bring accession talks as close to closure as possible before the Copenhagen summit on 12-13 December. Tomorrow, EU officials will meet candidate representatives to determine to what extent this is possible.

Most candidates have indicated a readiness to accept the compromise offered by Denmark, but Poland -- the largest applicant -- continues to hold out.

A Danish presidency source said Denmark expects all candidates to accept the nonbudgetary aspects of the offer by tonight, and that those candidates that do not do so risk losing all the bilateral individual concessions on offer.

Poland's Foreign Minister Wlodimierz Cimoszewicz said Poland has given in on some issues, but is looking for overall improvements on farm quotas and financial terms. "In some major issues we have decided to continue to present the same requests and the same argumentation -- or sometimes, to strengthen the argumentation, especially [in case] of the level of financial support for the Polish budget and for Polish farmers."

Cimoszewicz told journalists after Poland's talks with the EU that Poland is asking for no limits to be set on national "top-up" possibilities for direct aid to farmers after enlargement. The EU's Danish presidency has said the new members can use other funds to raise the initial 25-30-35 percent of EU levels in 2004, 2005, and 2006, respectively, to 40 percent annually.

Poland is also seeking increased budgetary compensation in the first years of membership to make sure it will receive significantly more from the EU than it will have to contribute out as a member state.

The Czech Republic and Hungary, on the other hand, have accepted slightly improved EU offers on farm subsidies. This will allow the two countries to use EU funds to bring farm-support levels to 45, 50, and 55 percent of EU levels in 2004, 2005, and 2006, respectively. Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said that his country is ready to close talks on all bilateral issues today, pending final consultations with Prague.

Poland's foreign minister said EU officials had appeared "surprised" at his country's continued insistence on better terms, adding that could have been a result of the willingness by most other candidates to accept the Danish compromise offer.

Slovakia and the Baltic countries are also close to a deal on everything but the most important financial issues, which will only be resolved at the Copenhagen summit. There were indications today that the Danish EU presidency has reduced the total funds on offer to the Baltic countries to "rebalance" the package which in relative, per capita terms originally heavily favored Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania as the poorest new entrants.

In a nationally important if slightly idiosyncratic twist, Estonia struck a deal enabling it to continue culling its large lynx population -- normally protected under EU law -- autonomously in the first five years of membership, after which time a review will be held to determine the effects of the policy. If the number of lynxes continues to grow, the EU will agree to exempting Estonia's lynx population from its protected-species legislation. Estonia currently boasts 20 lynxes per 1,000 square kilometers of territory. The lynx is largely extinct elsewhere in Europe.

Most of the candidates who are close to accepting the Danish offer are still arguing for higher farm-production quotas, notably those for milk. Diplomats say at least in some instances, farm quotas may still remain an issue for the Copenhagen summit, along with larger financial and budgetary issues.