Enthusiasm for EU talks slows

  • 2001-11-08
  • BNS/TBT staff
TALLINN - Having so far closed 19 chapters in the EU accession talks, Estonia sits in fifth place in the race of the smaller, six-member Luxembourg group of candidate countries to reach the European market. There are fears that the process is slowing up.

In the first group for EU enlargement Cyprus has made the most progress, having provisionally closed 23 chapters, or topics for negotiation. Hungary has closed 22, Slovenia and the Czech Republic 21, and Poland 18.

Alar Streimann, head of Estonian EU talks team, acknowledged that the talks have become slower, but insisted their quality has not suffered. He added that this trend was obvious as much as a couple of years ago.

Of the countries in the second, Helsinki group, Slovakia has closed 20 chapters, Lithuania, Latvia and Malta 18 each, Bulgaria 12 and Romania eight.

"The chapters of negotiation still open, for example taxation and energy, are so important that no incomplete solutions are admissible here," Streimann said in a news conference on Nov. 5.

Ten chapters remain open in Estonia's negotiations with the EU.

So far mostly the less complicated chapters, where primarily technical questions had to be settled, have been provisionally closed. "We've reached a higher qualitative plane," Streimann explained. "Several issues of principle are coming up, which concern transitional periods and exceptions we're seeking."

Estonia is applying for nearly 30 transition periods and more than 40 exceptions under nine chapters dealing with the free movement of labor and services, farming, tax, energy, regional policies, the environment, and the financial and budgetary regulations of the EU.

The number of applications for reprieve is biggest in the agriculture and environment chapters, two fields that require huge investments.

The longest transition period sought by Estonia, reaching forward into 2013, concerns the provision of quality drinking water in towns.

Commenting on Belgium's EU presidency, which started on July 1, Streimann said the attitudes of EU citizens toward enlargement and labor movement has not improved a great deal.

"Lots of people in Europe still think enlargement will bring additional expenses for their countries, and that it will also increase crime levels," he concluded.