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Associated Press, October 25, 2002
2002-10-25 13:43:15

EU Leaders Agree on Expansion Deal
By RAF CASERT, Associated Press Writer
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - European Union (news - web sites) leaders agreed on a complex deal Friday to finance the EU's eastward expansion starting in 2004, which will push its boundaries all the way to Russia.

"We have an agreement," Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters after a two-day summit he presided over.

He said the financial arrangement will be discussed with Cyprus, Malta and eight East European nations that are due to join in 2004. Formal invitations to become EU members are expected to be issued at a mid-December EU summit in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The candidate nations will be gradually phased into the EU's farm spending and regional aid budgets over a period of nine years, Rasmussen said.

He said the agreement came at the end of a two-day summit marked by wrangling about how generous to be to newcomers in farm spending ? an area where EU nations are under pressure from the World Trade Organization (news - web sites) to make significant cutbacks.

Ultimately, they agreed to let the EU's farm budget ? now totaling some $39 billion ? rise to $44.4 billion by 2006. It will then be frozen through 2013 except for annual increases of 1 percent to offset the effect of inflation.

The deal was in line with a farm spending agreement that France and Germany struck on Thursday. This was opposed most notably by the Netherlands, which won somewhat more frugal outlays. Rasmussen is expected to brief leaders of the candidate nations on the details of the agreement Monday in Copenhagen.

He said he was confident they will accept it, paving the way for them to join.

Countries expected to join include the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta.

Their entry will mark a watershed moment for the EU and the continent. It will also be a financial burden on the wealthier, current members, which will have to heavily invest in the poorer newcomers to assure their economic and political stability.

The leaders said they hoped Romania and Bulgaria can join in 2007. And while the leaders lauded Turkey's progress in meeting EU membership conditions, they refused to give Ankara what it wants most: a date to start entry talks.

In Ankara, Foreign Minister Sukru Sina Gurel said his country would "review" relations with the EU if no such date was set within the year.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair (news - web sites) said more drastic changes in the EU farm program will come eventually.

"We understand the concerns that countries have about protecting their industry, but in the end the world is only moving in one direction and that is liberalization," Blair said.

The summit accord will phase in EU handouts to millions of farmers in Poland and the other new members up to levels of current members by 2013.

The EU leaders also endorsed a package of some $22.5 billion in aid to develop the poorest regions of the new EU members through 2007.

The EU hopes to close entry talks with the 10 states at the Dec. 12-13 summit in Copenhagen, leaving a year for drawing up, signing and ratifying the membership treaties before they formally join Jan. 1, 2004.

The summit also sought to defuse a dispute with Russia over travel to and from its enclave of Kaliningrad, which will be surrounded by EU nations once Lithuania and Poland join.

The leaders backed a compromise for Kaliningrad's citizens to have access to cheap, easily available travel documents for transit through Lithuania to the rest of Russia. They plan to present the plan to Russian President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites) on Nov. 11.

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