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Wednesday, 9 October, 2002, 18:44 GMT 19:44 UK
EU reaches landmark expansion deal
Flags of member states fly outside European Parliament
It will be the biggest expansion in EU history
The European Union has taken a major step towards expanding into central and eastern Europe - a move that will, barring last-minute problems, bring 10 new members by 2004.

Candidates shortlist
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Estonia
Hungary
Latvia
Lithuania
Malta
Poland
Slovakia
Slovenia
Thirteen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the European Commission has approved a report judging 10 countries ready for membership.

The report also supported Bulgaria and Romania's efforts to join in 2007, but no date has yet been set to start accession talks with Turkey.

In an interview with the BBC, Turkish Foreign Minister Sukru Sina Gurell warned that relations between Ankara and the EU would suffer if the report was ratified.

EU governments will take the final decisions on expanding the union at a summit in Brussels later this month, and then at a further summit in Copenhagen in December.

Jubilation

Guenter Verheugen, the EU commissioner leading the expansion talks, said the approval of the 10 nations shortlisted reflected "the remarkable progress achieved by the candidate countries".

Click here to see a map of EU applicants

But despite the stamp of approval, there are still major hurdles to overcome before enlargement goes ahead.

A referendum poster in Ireland
The Yes campaign is pulling out all the stops in Ireland
Ireland must first vote in a referendum to adopt the Treaty of Nice - the treaty which outlines expansion - after rejecting it last time round.

The treaty must be ratified by all existing EU members to come into force.

And referenda on membership must be held in several applicant countries, many of whom are beginning to lose their enthusiasm for the European project.

Opponents of enlargement fear the arrival of the poor neighbours will drain money from the EU budget and slow down EU decision-making.

The expansion would add 75 million people to the 400 million already living in the EU, but the increase of population by nearly 20% adds no more than 5% to the union's wealth.

The 10 prospective new members, most of them former communist states, will be on probation for the next few years.

Three months before they join, the European Commission will report on how well they have kept their promises to adopt EU rules, and for two years after that, the union will be able to take action to prevent large flows of migrants from the east.

Turkey in the cold

Bulgaria and Romania, though not included in the first wave of expansion, have been told for the first time that 2007 could be envisaged as a possible date for them to join.

Both countries can expect EU support to be increased gradually from 2004.


I have high hopes for enlargement

John Adlington, UK
But despite pressure from the United States, the Commission proposed no date for starting accession talks with Turkey. Ankara does not yet fulfil the political criteria on human rights, it said.

Speaking to the BBC on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Gurell said that if the report's recommendations were approved, Turkey would be deeply dissappointed and would review its current agreements with the EU.

He also said the EU could seal the division of Cyprus - one of the countries which has been shortlisted - if the island was admitted into the union without a deal to reunify it.

In the past, Turkey has threatened to annex the island's Turkish north if Cyprus joined the EU before a peace settlement. Greece, however, has said it will veto the entire enlargement process if Cyprus is kept out.



Map showing Europe and EU expansion plans

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 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"Enlarging the EU is a grand ambition and a huge challenge"
Bulgarian Prime Minister speaks to BBC News Online
"2004 for us would have been wishful thinking"
The BBC's Chris Morris
"Turkey doesn't meet the political criteria"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
EU expansion
Who will benefit from enlargement?

Your guide to the European Union: Features, backgrounders and reference guides
Making sense of the EU

See also:

09 Oct 02 | Europe
09 Oct 02 | Europe
09 Oct 02 | Europe
08 Oct 02 | Business
09 Oct 02 | Europe
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