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EU members sign treaty to prepare for expansion

October 2, 1997
Web posted at: 8:27 a.m. EDT (1227 GMT)
Signing

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (CNN) -- European Union foreign ministers signed a treaty Thursday to prepare the organization for expansion in the next decade.

The ministers, hosted by Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok, met at the Royal Palace on Amsterdam's Dam Square, where the 15 European leaders signed the charter during a brief ceremony. To take effect, the treaty, first brokered at an EU summit in June, must be ratified by all national legislatures, a process expected to take years.

In contrast to the landmark Maastricht Treaty on economic and monetary union -- engineered six years ago -- Thursday's Amsterdam Treaty fell far short of the historic document many had hoped for.

It was designed to pave the way for eastward expansion but was viewed by observers as a compromise document which leaves many issues unresolved.

The latest version of the EU charter was supposed to simplify decision-making ahead of the new members. But two years of talks led to little on that score.

Palace

The treaty signed Thursday provides for a lifting of internal border controls, closer police cooperation and an EU-wide visa and asylum policies, except for Britain, Ireland and Denmark. It also commits governments to joint employment strategies.

The treaty also makes it harder for individual nations to block international policy decisions and creates an international policy planning unit at the EU head office.

At least 11 nations are to join the EU in coming years. Leading them are Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus. Further behind are Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia and Slovakia. The first newcomers will probably not join before 2003 or 2004.

Outside the building where the treaty was signed, riot police repeatedly drove back hundreds of protesters who charged the square. There were no reports of injuries, but several protesters were arrested.

 
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