EU stops dragging heels, declares would-be members

  • 2001-12-20
  • TBT staff
RIGA and VILNIUS - European Union leaders meeting in Laeken, Belgium, Dec. 15 assured 10 candidate countries of its commitment to the enlargement process. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were among them.

EU leaders were quick to point out that the 10 candidate countries still have a lot of work ahead before enlargement, envisaged for 2004. Still, the summit's final statement went further than expected as France in particular had been reluctant to name candidates.

Upon returning from Brussels, the leaders of the Baltic countries expressed positive reactions to the summit.

"It has firmly been stated that the (accession) talks will be brought to an end," Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves said. "Unless we do something very stupid, Estonia will be among the countries that wrap up the accession talks."

He added that naming the front runners would help to reduce the overall feeling of insecurity in the region. It also weakens the position of those EU member states that oppose enlargement.

Latvia's Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins stressed that the Baltic foreign ministers had discussed cooperation between the three countries and revisited the topic of a joint fight against terrorism.

Representatives from Denmark, which will hold the rotating EU presidency in the second half of next year, said that the country was categorically against introducing new criteria for the EU candidate countries and insisted that they be assessed within the framework of the current criteria.

Reform ahead

The "Laeken declaration" on the political future of Europe issued at the summit has set the agenda for a European constitutional convention, which will start next March. The declaration is a vehicle to stimulate discussion and try to resolve problems that the EU faces now and which will be exacerbated later under enlargement.

The convention will draw up constitutional proposals that will be considered by the heads of the governments of the EU in 2003 or 2004.

While the candidate countries will attend the convention, they will not have a vote in the final draft, which will be presented at an intergovernmental conference on the future of the EU.

The 10 countries announced for possible EU membership in 2004 are the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. The declaration passed at the summit says all EU candidate countries that have started negotiations, except Romania and Bulgaria, should complete the accession negotiations by the end of 2002 if the current negotiation process continues.

This round of enlargement would be the largest in the history of the European Union, and the first time that countries from Central and Eastern Europe are admitted - aside from the former East Germany, which joined in 1990 after it was reunited with Germany.

The list of candidate countries was announced after an extravagant dinner between the 15 EU member states and 13 candidate countries, which also included Turkey, at the Belgian Royal Castle in Laeken.