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Associated Press, October 9, 2002
2002-10-09 17:31:47

EU: Cyprus, Malta and 8 others approved to join in 2004; Turkey delayed

ROBERT WIELAARD
Associated Press Writer
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ The European Union's executive Commission declared eight east European nations, Cyprus and Malta nearly ready for EU membership Wednesday and recommended they be invited to join in 2004 in what would be the most ambitious EU expansion ever.

However _ in a move bound to upset Ankara and Washington _ the European Commission remained silent on when to start entrance talks with Turkey, an EU candidate since 1999.

The Commission said in a report that Turkey still failed to meet political and economic membership criteria and needs to clean up its human rights records.

Although Turkey had made a good start toward improving its human rights record, problems remained, the Commission said. It suggested doubling the $172 million a year Turkey gets in ``pre-accession'' aid for judicial reforms, small businesses and modernizing the civil service.

The United States has urged the west Europeans to be more welcoming to Turkey, which Washington considers a loyal and strategically important Muslim ally in the war on terrorism.

The 93-page Commission report said membership talks with Malta, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia have gone well enough to justify bringing them into the EU in 2004.

Romania and Bulgaria, also negotiating entry, likely will not be ready until 2007, the Commission said, a target the two countries set themselves.

Membership invitations will likely be issued at a mid-December EU summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. That would leave two years for the 10 accession treaties to be ratified by the legislatures of the EU nations, the candidate countries and the European Parliament.

EU enlargement still faces major hurdles. EU nations must settle a disagreements over subsidies to farmers in the candidate states. Irish voters could reject expansion in a second vote Oct. 19. And EU officials are still hoping reconciliation talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots will be completed shortly.

Negotiations began with Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia in March, 1998 and with Malta, Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia in October, 1999. The talks cover 30-odd economic, financial, political, trade and other areas in which candidates must adopt EU rules and legislation. Membership may promise trade and other benefits _ including EU assistance. It also exposes industries in candidate states to tough competition from wealthy EU rivals.

The Commission report said all 10 candidates have made ``considerable'' progress in that. The Commission said the 10 candidates were ``ready for membership from the beginning of 2004,'' although much work remains to be done ``in a limited number of specific areas.''

Romania and Bulgaria likely will be delayed until 2007 because of weak economies, the Commission said, adding Turkey was the weakest link among candidates.

``Turkey does not yet meet the accession criteria,'' European Commission President Romano Prodi told the European Parliament.

The EU report cited improvements in human rights but also a litany of lingering shortcomings such as restrictions on freedom of expression, torture of prisoners, excessively long pre-arrest detentions and not enough civilian control over Turkey's powerful armed forces, which have long been the silent major power in the country.

The EU's eastward shift in 2004 parallels the expansion of the NATO alliance, whose leaders are to invite Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria to join the alliance in November.

Also, the EU hopes reconciliation talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities on ending a 28-year division of the Mediterranean island will lead to all of Cyprus joining the union.

If the U.N.-sponsored reconciliation fails, EU-member Greece wants the Greek half of Cyprus to come in or it will veto EU enlargement as a whole. For its part, Ankara has warned it may annex the Turkish side of Cyprus if the north is left out _ a move that would have dangerous implications for always-shaky Greek-Turkish relations.

An expansion by 10 countries in 2004 would be the most ambitious ever for an organization that began in the early 1950s as the European Coal and Steel Community. Its six founding nations _ Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg _ created the European Common Market in 1957.

The ever-widening of the group's powers created a steady stream of newcomers. In 1973, Denmark, Ireland and Britain joined followed by Greece (1981), Spain and Portugal (1986) and Austria, Finland and Sweden (1995). EU-Turkish relations have long known ups and downs. The country became an ``associate member'' in 1963 and formally applied in 1987. It was turned down then along with Morocco.

Although 96 percent of Turkey lies in Asia, the EU considers it a European nation. In 1999, the EU leaders declared Turkey a candidate but held off on negotiations while it opened talks the 10 other neighbors.

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