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BBC, October 9, 2002
2002-10-09 16:29:43

EU reaches landmark expansion deal

It will be the biggest expansion in EU history The European Union has taken a major step towards expanding into central and eastern Europe - a move that will, barring last-minute problems, bring 10 new members by 2004.

Candidates shortlist

Cyprus Czech Republic Estonia Hungary Latvia Lithuania Malta Poland Slovakia Slovenia

Thirteen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the European Commission has approved a report judging 10 countries ready for membership. Despite the stamp of approval, there are still major hurdles to overcome before enlargement goes ahead.

Ireland must vote in a referendum to adopt the treaty of Nice - the treaty which outlines expansion - after rejecting it last time round.

And referenda on membership must be held in several applicant countries, many of whom are beginning to lose their enthusiasm for the European project. Concerns also remain about the effect the arrival of so many economically weak countries will have.

Three other hopefuls have not made the grade for the 2004 expansion.

Bulgaria and Romania hope to join in 2007 but Turkey has been given no timetable for membership.

Jubilation

"The historic and political arguments in favour of enlargement are compelling. It will also produce substantial economic benefits," a draft copy of the Commission's report says. The Foreign Minister of Slovenia, which is among the best prepared of the future members, said that joining the EU was a historic achievement.

The Yes campaign is pulling out all the stops in Ireland "Slovenia was, maybe 12 years back, still a socialist country. Today it's a modern economy and we have just got this report saying that we are good students," Dmitrij Rupel told the BBC. Slovenia had fulfilled the political and economic criteria, which was very important, Mr Rupel said. "But the first and utmost important thing is that we are country that has credibility," he said. However, the whole project could be stopped in its tracks by the 19 October referendum in Ireland. Voters there already rejected the Nice Treaty in a vote in June 2001 and it must be ratified by all existing EU members to come into force. If the Treaty is again turned down, "there is no Plan B," EU spokesman Jonathan Faull told the Associated Press.

Unresolved issues

Despite the long haul to make expansion a viable project, there are remaining doubts and difficulties The expansion would add 75 million people to the 400 million already living in the EU, but the increase of population by nearly 20% adds no more than 5% to the Union's wealth.

Click here to see a map of EU applicants Opponents of enlargement fear the arrival of the poor neighbours will drain money from the EU budget. The complicated issue of how to share out the EU's 80bn euro ($79bn) aid budget for farmers and poor regions has still to be resolved. There is also concern that the entry of so many new members will slow down EU decision-making.

The Commission's full report, being formally made public later on Wednesday, puts the 10 prospective new members, most of them former communist states, on probation for the next few years. Three months before they join, the European Commission will report on how well they have kept their promises to adopt EU rules in areas like food safety and border controls.

And for two years after that, the EU will be able to take action to prevent large flows of migrants from the east.

Turkey in the cold Bulgaria and Romania, though not included in the first wave of expansion, will be told for the first time that 2007 could be envisaged as a possible date for them to join. Both countries can expect EU support to be increased gradually from 2004. The European Commission will also propose doubling financial aid to Turkey by 2006.

While welcoming recent steps to abolish the death penalty and improve cultural rights for the Kurdish minority, the Commission's report says that Turkey - an associate member for 40 years - does not fully meet the political criteria to start membership talks. EU governments will take the final decisions on expanding the Union at a summit in Brussels later this month, and then at a further summit in Copenhagen in December.

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