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The Independent (London) -October 5, 2002, Saturday
2002-10-07 14:17:19

BYLINE: Stephen Castle In Brussels
THE EUROPEAN Commission will give 10 countries the green light next week for EU entry in 2004 and suggest that two more could join in 2007 - but leaves Turkey without a date for talks on its membership bid.

In briefings before next week's report, it was revealed that all 10 - Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Cyprus - had satisfied Brussels that they had done enough to merit entry. They expect to be invited to join at December's heads of government summit in Copenhagen. More surprising is the suggestion that Romania and Bulgaria, which will not join the EU in the first wave, could be ready as soon as 2007. However, the European Commission will not recommend a starting date for negotiations with Turkey, whose candidature has been hampered by worries over its human rights record. Few expected such a pledge to Ankara at this point, although heads of government will have to decide in Copenhagen how to pursue the issue.

Next week's report will praise Ankara for introducing a recent flurry of reforms, which include the abolition of the death penalty in peacetime and more cultural rights for its Kurdish minority.

Commission officials insisted the document would not prejudge the EU leaders' decision on whether to set a date for negotiations. They played down speculation that Ankara would be offered a EUR1bn (pounds 620m) annual aid package as a consolation prize for its slow progress towards membership. Turkish accession is acutely sensitive because of Cyprus and because some EU governments feel Turkey is too big to be absorbed.

Next week's report marks the beginning of the final stage of negotiations on EU enlargement. Ahead lie two months of talks on the most delicate issue: its financing.

The timetable could still be upset by a "No" vote in Ireland's referendum on the Nice Treaty on 19 October, which will adapt the EU's institutions for enlargement.

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