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 Wednesday, 29 January, 2003, 19:01 GMT
Malta first in EU referendum race
Malta's capital Valetta
Malta does not seem over-enthusiastic about the EU
Malta will vote in several weeks on whether to join the European Union - making it the first of the new wave of EU members to hold its referendum.

The vote will take place on 8 March coinciding with local elections, Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami announced.

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
People in Malta are thought to be generally unenthusiastic about EU membership - polls suggest about 50% want their country to join.

Mr Fenech Adami is expected to address the country's 380,000 inhabitants later on Wednesday.

His conservative government has urged a "yes" vote in the referendum, saying that EU membership is essential for Malta's economy and security.

Opposition Labour Party leader Alfred Sant is calling for a "no" vote, and has previously threatened to boycott the poll.

Financial package

The other nine prospective members will hold their referendums later in the year, and some could face a tough battle to get a "yes" vote.

Eddie Fenech Adami
Fenech Adami's government favours joining the EU
The deal allowing the 10 to join was agreed in December at the EU's Copenhagen summit.

Most of the new members are from the former communist eastern and central Europe, plus Cyprus and Malta.

A financial package covering their entry in 2004 was thrashed out at the summit.

The funding agreement at the summit was reached after the EU pledged 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.

Malta began its talks on entering the EU in 2000.


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14 Dec 02 | Europe
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