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EU hopefuls clamour for entry
NICE, France -- The 13 countries seeking membership to the EU, turning it into the world’s biggest single market, are watching the weekend struggles for reform of its institutions to accommodate them with fascination -- and not a little horror.
Many are alarmed that failure at Nice could cause political repercussions at home.
Reforming their laws and their economies to qualify for membership has been a tough business in many cases, not always popular with their home electorates.
Tomas Ilves, the Estonian Foreign Minister, warned early on that it was important that enlargement proceeded rapidly.
He said: “The alternative, slowing down enlargement, waiting around for some kind of big bang in some distant future, is something which will harm... those governments that have taken the political risks to move ahead.”
Janos Martonyi, the Hungarian Foreign Minister, said that applicant countries had already paid a high social cost and it would be demotivating if there was a failure in Nice.
Jan Kulakowski, Poland’s chief negotiator with the EU, revealed the frustration of the applicants with the long-drawn-out reform process, warning: “There is a gap between political declarations and concrete delivery.”
EU hopefuls push for membership
Both Tomas and Martonyi urged that negotiations with the countries which had prepared for EU membership should be speeded up without waiting for others to qualify. And there was some sign of progress.
The EU leaders had deliberately invited the 13 applicants -- Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Turkey and a Swiss representative -- to lunch to open their proceedings in Nice.
It was intended as a way of concentrating existing members’ minds on the wider objective of their weekend.
But they found themselves under pressure to come up with a clear date when the leading applicants would be admitted.
They would not go as far as that, pointing out that entry was a matter for negotiation, but Chancellor Schroder of Germany expressed his sympathy, saying the summit had a special responsibility for the enlargement process.
He said: “We were all impressed by the high expectations of the applicant countries and agreed we must take account of those.”
They then did so. The EU had long expressed the hope of making its own changes in time to be able to accommodate new entrants from January 2003.
In Nice they added urgency by altering the summit declaration to say that it was being done in the hope of new members taking part in the next European Parliament elections. Those are due in the summer of 2004.
That has encouraged the most qualified of the applicant countries, who point out that they would have to be admitted well before those elections to have a chance of participating.
But even before any Treaty of Nice had been agreed the would-be members were looking ahead to the next battle.
They were urging that not only did the 15 current members need to conclude such a treaty --they needed to hurry on their national parliaments in ratifying it if there was not to be a new series of excuses for delay.
EU leaders clash at Nice summit
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