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Tuesday, 12 June, 2001, 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK
Europe squabbles over expansion
Roadblocks on the street outside the conference centre in Gothenburg.
EU enlargement is the focus of the Gothenburg summit
By BBC European affairs correspondent William Horsley

Sweden had hoped that during its presidency of the European Union it could persuade its partners to set a clear timetable for expansion.

But Ireland's rejection of the Nice Treaty, which sets out the EU's enlargement plans, has created confusion and uncertainty just ahead of a key summit in the Swedish city of Gothenburg.


The dialogue on membership between the "ins" and the "outs" of the EU is now marked by tetchiness, tantrums and taunts
European leaders have vowed to push ahead with the plan to admit 12 new, mostly eastern European states but the Irish No vote could delay its implementation.

Call to overturn

Before the referendum, EU officials were quoted as saying that a vote against the treaty could not be "finessed" - although other member states have ruled out renegotiations to address Irish concerns.

The Cyprus Government callled on the EU to do everything necessary to "overturn" the Irish decision and the Polish representative said the the result "should not harm such an important issue".

However, Hungary's Finance Minister Mihaly Varga said the uncertainty could cause political and financial problems in the candidate countries.

Whatever the outcome, the Irish decision has further muddied the waters of enlarging the union.

Six months ago, the Swedes said they hoped to ensure that the first of the candidate countries - probably including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic - would join in 2003.

It would have been a signal that those nations, in the mainstream of European history and culture, had thrown off the shadow of the Soviet-led Communist oppression which they endured for more than 40 years and truly come home to the European family.

Doubts

Recently, though, Poland accused the EU of foot-dragging in talks over issues such as equality for eastern European workers in getting jobs in the West, and protecting Polish land from being bought up cheaply by rich Western carpetbaggers.

The government said it now believed it would not be allowed to join before 2005, even though it expected to have met nearly all the conditions by the end of 2002.

Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh has announced much lower expectations for the summit.

Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek
Jerzy Buzek: EU is 'insulting' Poland
"I hope we will be able to tick off a number of difficult questions in Gothenburg," she said. "If it is also possible to be more specific on dates, that would be excellent."

It has proved much harder than expected to raise the economic, social, environmental and judicial standards of the candidate countries to that required by the EU. Instead of the hoped-for mood of celebration, the dialogue on membership between the "ins" and the "outs" of the EU is now marked by tetchiness, tantrums and taunts.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan has said that "unbelievably small-minded demands" are being raised by the existing member-states, slowing down the negotiations.

Dimitrij Rupel, foreign minister of Slovenia, the smallest but one of the best-prepared of the accession candidates, said the apparent stalling tactics of the EU side gave the impression "that the negotiating process has been brought to a halt".

Sweden's Minister for Foreign Affairs and President of the Council of Foreign Ministers Anna Lindh
Sweden's Anna Lindh: Lowering expectations
Poland's Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek said it was insulting that the EU was inviting his country and others to join the EU club as "second-class members". He was making a reference to the proposed seven-year delay before citizens of the newcomer states would gain the automatic right to work and settle anywhere in the present EU territory.

The 15 current members have for years congratulated themselves on seeing through the "historic" task of enlargement, but they have not shown that they are willing to pay the price.

Enlarging the EU to take in up to 12 new members, mostly far poorer than the EU average, involves a clear loss of financial benefits as well as a dilution of political influence for the old members.

Hesitation

Spain has been accused of selfishness for suggesting it might stand in the way of enlargement unless it received promises of special subsidies for its own poorest regions, Extremadura and Andalusia, for years to come.

The new Italian Government, headed by business tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, said it would also prefer a slower pace of enlargement to ensure the flow of funds to own backward south, the Mezzogiorno.


While EU states squabble over the privileges they may have to give up, those in the waiting-room of membership chafe and fret and sometimes explode with annoyance

The Germans, who are still the Union's main paymasters, said it would only let its eastern neighbours into the EU if its own wealthy workers could be protected from losing their jobs to Poles or Hungarians who would accept lower pay.

Two leading economic institutes have scared Germans with an estimate - criticised by others as inflated - that quick enlargement might lead to six million immigrants moving into the present EU lands, many of them seeking a new life in Germany.

It is an undignified spectacle. While EU states squabble over the privileges they may have to give up, those in the waiting-room of membership chafe and fret and sometimes explode with annoyance.

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See also:

12 Jun 01 | Europe
Gothenburg summit agenda
12 Jun 01 | Europe
Large protests await EU summit
11 Jun 01 | Europe
EU 'to proceed with enlargement'
08 Jun 01 | Europe
Ireland rejects EU expansion
30 Apr 01 | Euro-glossary
Nice Treaty
30 Apr 01 | Euro-glossary
Enlargement
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