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European Union reaches modest treaty agreement

European leaders

June 18, 1997
Web posted at: 12:08 p.m. EDT (1608 GMT)

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (CNN) -- European Union leaders reached agreement early Wednesday on a treaty that sets the stage for eastern expansion, but it fell short of the ambitious document some members had sought.

"It's not as strong as we had hoped," said Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who added that he was "moderately satisfied" with the progress the organization made.

The treaty had to give everyone something to take home to voters, and finding a formula to fit 15 national agendas proved a daunting task.

"There was this tendency to load the wagon with every good idea you could think of," said Irish Prime Minister John Bruton. "We might have been better off to have concentrated on a few items."

Membership expansion

EU leaders agreed to a watered-down version of proposals put forth on the first day of the two-day summit -- proposals that came out of two years of talks.

And while some expressed open disappointment, most said they felt the new treaty was strong enough to begin the work of expansion.

"The Treaty of Amsterdam is a solid basis for the coming tasks of unifying Europe," German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said.

Membership talks are expected to begin within six months with a dozen applicants as the organization prepares to expand into former Communist bloc countries. Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Cyprus are considered the leading candidates.

Prospective member countries will be invited to a debriefing in about 10 days.

Compromise in order

To win approval of the modest expansion plans, other key components of the original proposals were diluted. For instance, a plan to redistribute votes proportional to a country's population ran afoul of Europe's smaller nations, who feared a loss of influence in decision-making processes.

"Proportional voting, had it been approved, would have been introduced when the Union expanded," said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jacques Poos. "Now the debate has been put off until expansion happens."

A French and German drive to strengthen the EU's defense role fell prey to concerns from Britain and other countries that such a strategy would undermine NATO's role in Europe.

Decision-making won't get any easier


The new treaty did give the EU some authority over immigration and border security, although it granted exemptions to Britain, Ireland and Denmark.

The Union inched closer to a single European currency by closing a gap between France and Germany on Monday, but France opened a new one the following day by announcing it wanted new concessions before agreeing to the plan.

Outside the summit, protesters staged a series of demonstrations -- the last one disrupting the Dutch president's concluding address -- to express their objections to the EU's plans.

Inside, the leaders had come to an agreement. The treaty, while not a huge success, could not be termed a failure, either. However, as the organization expands, consensus is likely to become harder to reach.

Brussels Bureau Chief Patricia Kelly contributed to this report.

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