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EU sets date for historic union

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BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Commission has recommended in an historic move that 10 mostly poor ex-communist countries join the European Union in two years' time.

Thirteen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall the nations -- Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Malta and Cyprus -- have been deemed ready to compete inside the EU's single market from 2004 following often painful economic and social reforms.

Bulgaria and Romania have been give a date of 2007, but Turkey has been left out until the country establishes a better human rights record, though the report recognised its work towards abolishing the death penalty and improved Kurdish rights.

But CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley said what "should be a joyous moment... getting together in a huge reunification" is tinged with imminent squabbles over crucial reform plans such as agriculture subsidies.

"It is going to get sour because they have left the nitty gritty, for example agriculture reform, to the end," he said.

Some candidate countries are unhappy with the amount of farming subsidies being offered in comparison to existing members, while current members such as France and Ireland, are reluctant to give up much of their subsidies.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen is due to present the enlargement report to the European Parliament after the full commission approves it later on Wednesday.

Reuters news agency reported the commission said in a draft copy: "The historic and political arguments in favour of enlargement are compelling.

"It will also produce substantial economic benefits."

Enlargement is also anticipated to cement democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights as well as open up the fast-growing region to EU investors and consumers, the documents adds.

Enlargement could create a potential market of 490 million people -- "the potential for a great economic power," Oakley adds.

The enlargement proposal is to go forward for debate in Brussels on October 24-25 with a final decision to be made at a summit in Copenhagen in December.

Possible obstacles to the signing of the proposal include an Irish referendum on enlargement on October 19. It is the second time the Irish government will have gone to the electorate in the hope of securing a "yes" vote. Last June they voted "no" by 54 percent to 46 percent.

Ireland, which is one of the few countries to hold a referendum on the issue of enlargement, has benefited from subsidies since it joined the EU, but its people appear fearful that a larger union will dilute the country's neutrality and reduce its subsidies.

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