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Friday, 25 October, 2002, 21:43 GMT 22:43 UK
Summit's hot air and high drama
Jacques Chirac
Chirac attacked the UK over its special EU rebate

It took a lot of political hot air, and heated disputes about money.


The toughest part was deciding the level of aid for the new members, which are much poorer than the EU average

But after just 24 hours at their working summit in Brussels, the 15 leaders of the European Union agreed on a framework to pay for the EU's enlargement, to take in 10 new members in 2004.

The chairman of the meeting, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said the accord paved the way for the historic expansion of the union to be formally agreed at the next summit in Copenhagen in mid-December.

He suggested it was a good deal for citizens of the present 15 members of the EU club.

For the next two years, he said, extra payments to the future member-nations would cost each citizen no more than 15 euros ($14.60) each per year.

The deal has three elements:

  • All 10 "accession countries" were formally accepted as prospective members by the heads of government.

  • The terms for the future members to enter the elaborate EU system of farming and regional aid were agreed.

  • And machinery was agreed for making payments to the newcomers to make sure that none of them would become net payers into the EU's coffers, at least up to 2006 when a new budget for the union must be hammered out.

The toughest part was deciding the level of aid for the new members, which are much poorer than the EU average and which include Poland, still largely a farming nation.

The Brussels deal settled on the figure of 45bn euros ($44bn) per year as the maximum amount of money set aside for farming, to be shared among all 25 EU states from 2007 onwards.

A landmark accord between France and Germany before the start of the summit made it possible to set this ceiling.

It means in effect that the cash available for farmers in the existing, Western states of the EU will have to go down as that going to the new members goes up.

The summit leaders also earmarked 23bn euros ($22bn) as the total in other forms of regional aid to the 10 applicants over the next two years.

Pressure on UK

There were moments of high drama. France's President Jacques Chirac tried to divert pressure from France, as the largest recipient of farm aid, to Britain.

He said Britain should give up its special "rebate" from the EU in the coming years.

That could be very expensive for the UK, forcing Britain to pay into the EU as much per head of population as the Germans, the union's main paymasters.

Britain's Prime Minister, Tony Blair, struck back by saying that the EU's costly system of farm subsidies was inconsistent with Europe's commitments to free trade made at the launch of the current Doha Round of the World Trade Organisation.

It must be changed, he said.

Dutch dismay

Among the reformers were also the Dutch.

They said they were "flabbergasted" at the French and German deal which appears to set the EU on course to keep farm spending at a high, though stable, level.

Candidates shortlist
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Estonia
Hungary
Latvia
Lithuania
Malta
Poland
Slovakia
Slovenia

They won some concessions, including a written commitment that the EU would honour its international trade obligations.

On the other side Spain and Portugal, members of the "Club Med" of countries which receive large amounts of regional aid, criticised the majority desire for spending cuts, but appear to have been overruled.

And the candidate states were forced to sit on the sidelines while these decisions were taken.

A Polish Government official said Poland would negotiate hard in the weeks ahead to win more equal treatment with current member-states like France and Spain in the matter of aid handouts.

If the terms of entry are too severe, there is a risk that one or more of the applicant states might reject them in popular referendums expected next year.

Turkish exception

Turkey is a special case. It is a candidate, but has not been invited to start talks on accession because of its democracy and human rights record.

EU leaders said recent reforms to Turkey's laws had brought the start of those talks nearer. But they still refuse to set a firm date.

The EU summit circus put on a typical show, including a high-wire act with the leaders looking at one stage like falling flat on the floor.

But, as usually happens, they kept their balance in the thick of the battle over cash and prestige.

The chances now are that in 2004 the EU will have 25 members, stretching from the Atlantic to Cyprus and the old Cold War border with Soviet Russia.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"They are not going to delay enlargement"

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25 Oct 02 | Business
24 Oct 02 | Europe
21 Oct 02 | Europe
20 Oct 02 | Europe
08 Oct 02 | Europe
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