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Saturday, 31 August, 2002, 01:17 GMT 02:17 UK
EU grapples with expansion issues
EC President Romano Prodi, host Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller and Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief
Denmark is hosting two days of talks

European Union foreign ministers have reassured applicant countries - mostly from Central Europe - that up to 10 of them could complete talks to join the EU by the end of the year.
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At a meeting in the Danish port of Elsinore, the ministers also welcomed recent reforms in Turkey.

However they indicated they may not be able to make a final judgement on whether it is fit to begin entry talks by December.

Brainstorming

To expand, or not to expand, that is the question facing the European Union now.

At Elsinore, the setting of Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet, the answer of the EU foreign ministers was a firm "yes".

The Danish Foreign Minister Perstig Moeller said expansion was not only a question of money, but of history, the political will to reunite Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall.


Turkey has started to move in the right direction. If you can compare the situation today with that of four years ago you would not believe the progress

Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen
But the tricky issue of how to finance the entry of up to 10 much poorer countries is unlikely to be solved until next month's elections in Germany, and some diplomats doubt that an agreement will be found on the sensitive issue of farming subsidies, even in late October when EU leaders meet in Brussels.

The foreign ministers spent three hours brainstorming on another difficult topic, Turkey.

The European Enlargement Commission, Guenter Verheugen, said an encouraging signal had to be sent after Turkey's decision to abolish the death penalty and grant its large Kurdish minority more cultural rights.

Risky business

But he said the reforms had to be properly implemented, and that the EU would not see a sufficient track record before the end of the year to make a final judgement.

So Turkey's request for a date to start entry negotiations may not be granted in December.

Doubts were also raised over whether Romania and Bulgaria should be told they can join in 2007 as they hope.

Setting dates so far ahead, a diplomat said, is a risky business. But the Danish foreign minister promised more help to reassure the two countries that they too are part of the family.

On Saturday, Ministers will look at ways to avoid new dividing lines in Europe after expansion. One idea is to offer Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus better political and trade terms under new European neighbourhood agreements.

See also:

27 Aug 02 | Politics
23 Aug 02 | Europe
27 Aug 02 | Politics
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