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Sunday, December 14, 1997 Published at 16:48 GMT


EU agrees major expansion
image: [ All smiles: Germany's Helmut Kohl shakes hands with Portugal's Antonio Gutteres ]
All smiles: Germany's Helmut Kohl shakes hands with Portugal's Antonio Gutteres

European Union leaders have ended a two-day summit in Luxembourg by agreeing plans for the biggest expansion project in its 40-year history.

Eleven countries will join the organisation, six in the first wave - Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus.

[ image: Estonia is one of those on the path to membership]
Estonia is one of those on the path to membership
Another five eastern European countries - Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania - will be invited to join future talks and will be monitored as they carry out reforms to improve their eligibility.

Turkey has not been given candidate status because of concerns about the country's human rights record.

But EU leaders have agreed to invite Turkey to join a new European Conference in March intended as a preparation for EU membership.

The BBC's Emma Udwin reports from Luxembourg
Ankara, which has been seeking EU membership since the early 1960s, has warned that it may turn away from Europe if it is not treated in the same way as other eastern European countries.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair appealed to Turkey to accept the summit's invitation to join the conference and said there was strong support "all round the table" that Turkey would one day join the EU.

"People recognise that Turkey is a great power, Turkey is a great people. It is important for the future of Europe as well as for Turkey that we move closer together and that we envisage the day in which Turkey becomes a member of the European Union," Mr Blair told a news conference.

Expansion 'an important step'

[ image: Chancellor Kohl has promoted eastern enlargement]
Chancellor Kohl has promoted eastern enlargement
"It's the decisive event in the history of Europe after the Second World War," German Chancellor Helmut Kohl told a closing news conference, noting that, post-enlargement, Germany would be surrounded by its EU partners.

"The unification of Europe has taken an important step forward," added French President Jacques Chirac.

The first six nations are regarded as best-prepared economically and politically to join, although it will take years of further reform before they are allowed in.

Formal negotiations on terms for admission begin next Spring. The process begins in March with a grand party, followed by the start of membership talks.

The United Kingdom says it wants to get the process off to a flying start under its presidency of the EU which begins on January 1.

The BBC's Emma Udwin reports from Luxembourg

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