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Friday, 23 November, 2001, 16:19 GMT
EU issues enlargement warning
EU member states flags
The EU foresees a 'Big Bang' expansion in 2004
The European Commissioner responsible for EU enlargement has acknowledged there are still problems over admitting new members to the union.

We still have a problem of political, psychological nature

Guenter Verheugen
Speaking at a conference in Frankfurt, Guenter Verheugen said support for the process was not overwhelming in the current member states.

He also spoke of growing scepticism about the benefits of membership in the applicant countries.

He described the problems as "psychological", and called for more political support for what he said was an historic process.


Gunter Verheugen
Verheugen: Cautious optimism
He reiterated the commission's view that the next batch of new members could join the EU within three years.

"The Commission believes that it is possible to conclude negotiations with a group of countries - the group can be as big as 10 - by the end of next year," he said.

"Ratification would follow rapidly and the aim is to have the first new members before the European elections in 2004," he added.

Support for EU enlargement
Austria 33%
France 35%
Germany 35%
UK 35%
Netherlands 42%
Luxembourg 43%
Belgium 44%
Finland 45%
EU average 43%
Source: Eurobarometer
The current 10 frontrunners to join the EU are Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Cyprus and Malta.

However this week France surprised many of its EU partners by suggesting that not 10 but 12 countries - including Bulgaria and Romania - should be admitted simultaneously.

Frontrunners' concerns

Mr Verheugen said the main existing problems were of a "political, psychological nature".

"It is a question of sufficient political support for that historic project in candidate countries and in member states," he added.

France and Germany are resolute that the extent and timeframe of enlargement be maintained

Statement from Franco-German summit
Last week, an annual report published by the European Commission gave a favourable assessment of candidate members' progress towards fulfilling criteria for the EU membership.

The candidate countries welcomed the report's proposal to admit 10 countries.

Some later expressed concern at the French proposal to admit Bulgaria and Romania at the same time, fearing that this might delay the process.

Hungarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Horvath said that countries that were progressing in the accession negotiations should not be "held back" by others that have yet to make this progress.

However, French leaders insisted on Friday, at a meeting with their German counterparts in Nantes, that they wanted to see enlargement proceed according to schedule.

On Tuesday, Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero echoed the French position, saying that leaving Romania and Bulgaria out could be regarded as "political discrimination".

See also:

02 Jul 01 | Europe
EU poll reveals huge ignorance
20 Nov 01 | Europe
France proposes fast EU expansion
13 Nov 01 | Europe
EU hopefuls on track
12 Nov 01 | Business
Prodi calls for economic discipline
21 Sep 01 | Business
EU finance ministers in crisis talks
20 Sep 01 | Business
EU considers aid for airlines
10 Jul 01 | Business
Ministers reject EU tax plan
14 Jun 01 | Europe
The candidate countries
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