Final fight for better deal

  • 2002-10-31
  • Line Wolf Nielsen
The heads of government of the three Baltic countries gathered in Copenhagen Oct. 28 to hear first hand how much money they can expect from the European Union after joining in 2004.

Denmark, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, gave a briefing on the financial terms on which the 10 candidate countries can conclude membership talks in December.

In return, Baltic leaders and the other applicant countries offered their assessment to the proposed financial aid, along with a list of remaining political priorities that still need to be negotiated.

By the end of the meeting it was clear that all candidate countries are intent on getting better terms than those currently on offer.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was confident that difficult negotiations on a financial package - worth 40 billion euros - to finance enlargement could be wrapped up in December at the next EU summit in Copenhagen.

"For 45 years, Europe was a divided continent. In 45 days, we can finally close this dark chapter in European history," he said.

Still, Rasmussen admitted there would be some tough nuts to crack.

After almost five years of membership talks, the next few weeks could prove to be the hardest. Under a deal struck by EU leaders last week, farm subsidies for the newcomers will start at only a quarter of EU level, and increase gradually over a decade.

Not until 2013 will the support level reach what is then applicable in the current EU.

That is too long a wait for Poland, where a quarter of the population draws income from agriculture.

Latvia and Estonia have put agricultural issues on their top list of priorities for the remaining negotiations.

"In order to get sufficient public support for enlargement, it is important for Latvia that we do not have to buy milk from another EU country just because the quotas for our own production are too low," said Latvian Prime Minister Andris Berzins.

Other applicants also expressed the need for additional finance for their poor regions. They say the 23 billion euros on offer – rather than the original commission proposal of 25.5 billion euros - is too low.

They also want guarantees that their countries will not be worse off after joining the EU.

Rasmussen urged the candidate countries to concentrate less on direct payments and more on other facets, such as quotas. "Quotas affect the possibilities for production in the future," he said.

Applicant countries say their stance is justified. Government leaders need to be seen by voters at home as steadfast in their demands now that financial negotiations have come down to the wire.