The EU's current Danish presidency spent the last hours before the opening of the bloc's Copenhagen summit tonight trying to ensure the success of the meeting within the established two-day time frame. Officially, EU leaders have until tomorrow night to settle the terms under which the bloc will admit 10 new members in 2004 and lay a lasting groundwork for a new partnership with Turkey.
Copenhagen, 12 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union's Copenhagen summit, run by one of the smallest member states, Denmark, is faced with potentially the most momentous decisions in the bloc's history.
The summit should bring to fruition the decade-long rapprochement between the EU and its postcommunist neighbors in Eastern and Central Europe, together with the Mediterranean islands of Cyprus and Malta.
In addition, the gathering is expected to fix a date for entry negotiations with Turkey -- a decision, if it does materialize, that could set Turkey irreversibly on the road toward EU membership -- as well as perhaps resolve the 25-year-old Cyprus conflict and grant the EU access to NATO assets.
The summit's decision on enlargement appears a virtual certainty, with nine of the 10 candidates having in principle already accepted Denmark's compromise financing offer, which has been on the table for nearly three weeks.
However, Poland -- by far the largest of the hopefuls -- is still holding out for better terms. Poland's main argument is that the funds set aside for enlargement at the EU's 1999 Berlin summit -- slightly more than 42 billion euros -- would allow the EU to improve the Danish offer by another 2.1 billion euros.
Denmark has in recent days pointedly stressed that its compromise offer still lacks official EU support. Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said in Brussels on 10 December that he had received assurances from member state capitals that the deal would be endorsed, but warned that the EU was at the "limits of its generosity" and that the "purse would stay in the pocket" at the Copenhagen summit.
The main obstacles to improving the offer are Germany and the Netherlands, both intent on curbing their costs.
Last night, however, Poland indicated for the first time it might be ready to cave in, as a government spokesman called the EU's offer of 50 percent of EU farm subsidy levels in 2004 to 2006 "interesting." Contrary to some news reports, this does not involve a "doubling" of earlier EU offers, but simply refers to similar deals which have already been agreed by other candidates, allowing them to use their own and other EU funds to "top up" the initial 25 percent allocation.
Polish observers suggest in Copenhagen that Warsaw is intentionally muddling the terms to prepare domestic public opinion for a climb-down.
The EU's 15 heads of state and government will meet tonight to discuss the issue. The 10 candidates will be briefed on their discussion tomorrow morning. The rest of the day will be spent in intense negotiations, which the Danish presidency expects to result in a final deal by the evening.
The summit's other priority, Turkey, seems a tougher nut to crack for Denmark. Turkey has rejected an initial German-French offer to start accession talks in 2005 assuming it meets the EU's political entry criteria.
Today in Copenhagen, Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said after meeting his Greek counterpart, Kostas Simitis, that Turkey still insists on opening talks in 2003. The date for Turkish entry talks with the EU is part of a larger complex of issues which will determine -- and is in turn itself a function of -- whether Cyprus can join the EU as a single political entity, and whether the EU's defense project will gain access to crucial NATO assets so far blocked by Turkey.
Rauf Denktash, the president of the internationally shunned Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (an entity recognized only by Turkey), said last night (Wednesday) that he does not think a final deal at the Copenhagen summit is possible but is ready to continue talks. Leaders of Cyprus's Greek community have voiced similar doubts.
Meanwhile, the EU has in recent weeks endured severe pressure from the United States to issue Turkey an invitation to the talks. The United States views Turkey as a linchpin of stability in the Eastern Mediterranean and as a vital ally in a possible war against Iraq. Turkey has indicated in recent weeks that U.S. pressure on the EU is one of the conditions of its involvement in any possible action against Iraq.
The "Financial Times" reported today that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has written to the EU's external affairs commissioner, Chris Patten, asking the EU to waive some of its entry criteria. This morning, U.S. President George W. Bush called the Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, "to discuss Turkey's future relationship with the EU."
The U.S. pressure has led to some consternation in the EU. German officials are quoted in Western media as insisting the EU will take its decisions on Turkey "autonomously." Rasmussen today issued a statement saying the EU will make its decision known later tonight.
Finally, the summit will also approve detailed accession "road maps" for Bulgaria and Romania, and will probably endorse a proposal by the European Commission to increase preaccession aid by up to 40 percent in 2006. A draft of summit conclusions distributed by the Danish presidency says that, provided both countries keep up their reforms, it is the EU's "objective" to welcome Bulgaria and Romania as members in 2007.