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Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 10:13 GMT
EU hopefuls to woo voters
EU flag
Agreement was reached after tough negotiations
Leaders of the 10 countries invited to join the European Union on Friday are turning their attention to the potentially tricky task of selling the deal to their voters.

A series of referendums must take place before they can join the union in 2004.

Prospective new members
Czech Republic

In addition, parliaments of the current 15 EU countries need to ratify the treaty.

One senior negotiator said many people in the former Soviet-satellite states feared they could lose new-found freedoms by joining another bloc.

"(A referendum) is a difficult issue because we are a small nation and small nations are often very distrustful of becoming part of large organisations," Latvia's chief EU negotiator Andris Kesteris told Reuters news agency.


The historic agreement to expand the union was made at a two-day EU summit in the Danish capital Copenhagen, and was hailed as an end to Europe's Cold War divisions.

There was great celebration among ministers and negotiators after the funding deal was struck, despite sometimes fraught negotiations.

But correspondents say there are fears that public apathy towards the EU in countries like Poland and Estonia could result in an embarrassing "no" vote to enlargement.

The BBC's Oana Lungescu says Malta, the smallest candidate country, is politically divided over EU membership, which many fear will rob the island of its sovereignty.

The EU's enlargement commissioner, Guenter Verheugen, told the BBC that the next year would be crucial.

Possible timetable
December 2002: 10 countries invited to join
April 2003: Accession treaty to be signed in Athens
May 2004: New members join
December 2004: Turkey invited to start membership talks
2007: Bulgaria and Romania join EU
"Negotiations are finished, public debate will begin and I think it is very important to tell European citizens that this is the best prepared enlargement in the history of the European Union, that nobody must be afraid."

The first of the referendums is likely to be in Malta in March.

Foreign Minister Lazlo Kovacs said Hungarians were looking forward to joining the union.

"It is a long-standing demand of the Hungarian people to join the European Union as a community of values," he said.

Acceptable deal

The funding agreement struck at the summit may help sway voters.

After tough negotiations, the EU agreed to make 1bn euros available to Poland - the largest of the candidate countries - and up to 300m euros in extra aid to the other nine, a deal readily accepted by the majority.

Poland - which had initially asked for an extra 2bn euros - argued that without extra subsidy its farmers would face ruin inside the single market.

"It won't be an easy jump for our society," said former Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki. "But now it is a moment to celebrate."

Open in new window : Looking to the EU
Views from candidate countries

Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said that farmers' representatives had congratulated him on the agreement.

Slovak President Rudolf Schuster, speaking in Bratislava, praised the Slovak people for remaining united despite differences over joining the EU, and stressed the importance of next year's referendum.

He said a spirit of unity was needed "to keep this going on until the end, in order to achieve the implementation".

After enlargement, the population of the EU will rise to more than 450 million - surpassing the North American Free Trade Area as the world's biggest economic zone.

In other developments at the Copenhagen summit:

  • Talks on brokering a deal on the reunification of Cyprus failed
  • Turkey was told it could not begin negotiations on joining for two years
  • Nato announced a deal with the EU, paving the way for the creation of the first EU military force - an agreement that had been held up by Turkish opposition.

The BBC's Brian Hanrahan reports from Copenhagen
"Money is what always clinches things in the European Union"
Prime Minister Tony Blair
"It is a moment we can be truly proud of and offers great hope for the future"

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See also:

14 Dec 02 | Media reports
13 Dec 02 | Europe
13 Dec 02 | Europe
13 Dec 02 | Europe
11 Dec 02 | Europe
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