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The BBC's James Rodgers
"This is part of a wider drive by the EU to raise its role in foreign diplomacy"
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The BBC's Jonathan Beale in Luxembourg
"There is frustration here that the Irish government perhaps did not do enough to persuade more people... to vote yes"
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Monday, 11 June, 2001, 20:14 GMT 21:14 UK
EU 'to proceed with enlargement'
Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission
Romano Prodi said the timetable would not alter
The European Union has moved to calm the fears of potential new members from eastern Europe that its plans to enlarge have been derailed by a referendum in Ireland.

This will not act as a brake on negotiations for enlargement

Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen
Romani Prodi, President of the European Commission, said the EU remained committed to concluding negotiations by the end of next year with the most advanced of the 13 candidates.

Allowing for ratification by member states, that should permit the first new members from the post-communist east to join by 2004.

The Irish voted last Thursday to reject the Treaty of Nice, an overhaul of the union's rules allowing it to accommodate large numbers of new members that was signed by EU leaders last December after months of negotiations.

'Going ahead'

But at a meeting with EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg, Mr Prodi said: "It is very important we proceed with the enlargement. We will go ahead as foreseen and we are making considerable progress."

Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen
Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen: "Our support for enlargement is not in question"
Ireland has assured its 14 EU partners its citizens have not turned their back on eastern Europe.

Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen said: "Our support for enlargement is not in question. This will not act as a brake on negotiations for enlargement."

The Irish Government - the only one among the EU nations constitutionally obliged to call a referendum on the treaty - has suggested it will try to turn public opinion around in time for a second vote.

Other member states have ruled out renegotiating the treaty to address Irish concerns.

"Ministers... excluded any reopening of the text signed in Nice," they said in a statement. "The ratification process will continue on the basis of this text."

Anti-treaty campaigners in Ireland had warned that if it was ratified, their country risked being dominated by larger European states, losing funding to poorer applicant states, and having its neutrality compromised by the EU's new defence powers, which are enshrined in the treaty.

Ambitious project

The expansion is the 15-member EU's most ambitious ongoing project.

It seeks to end the Cold War division of Europe and bring Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, and Bulgaria - along with the Mediterranean islands of Malta and Cyprus - into the world's largest market.

Turkey has also applied to join, but it is lagging well behind the other candidates.

The other main item on the agenda at the meeting was the Middle East conflict. The Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, and the Palestinian Minister for International Co-operation, Nabil Shaath, held talks with the EU ministers.

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08 Jun 01 | Europe
Ireland rejects EU expansion
30 Apr 01 | Euro-glossary
Nice Treaty
30 Apr 01 | Euro-glossary
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