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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 April, 2003, 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK
Key EU enlargement vote passed
The European parliament has approved the eastward expansion of the European Union.

The vote paves the way for 10 candidate countries to join the EU in May 2004 - if the EU's national parliaments and voters in the candidate countries also give their support.

The 10 countries will now sign the accession treaty at a ceremony in Athens next week.

The time for enlargement has come and the time is now
Parliament president Pat Cox
The vote came after a row between the parliament and the European Commission over post-enlargement financing was resolved at the last minute.

On Tuesday the commission agreed to increase the budget in the first three years after enlargement to 540 million euros.

The parliament voted on each of the 10 candidate countries individually, overwhelmingly backing each one.

Applause

"I believe that the feelings and the emotions that have informed our debate here today... represent a very decisive choice," said parliament president Pat Cox after the votes.

"That is the choice to put an end to a Europe fractured by Europe's barbaric 20th Century and to create for the 21st Century a Europe reconciled and united around common ideals and common European values."

EU CANDIDATE COUNTRIES
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Estonia
Hungary
Latvia
Lithuania
Malta
Poland
Slovakia
Slovenia

There was applause after each vote, as senior officials and diplomats from each candidate country watched from the visitors' gallery.

But there were dissenting voices, with up to 70 MEPs voting against or abstaining.

The strongest support was for Latvia, Slovenia and Hungary, which were all approved by 522 votes to 22.

The weakest was for the Czech Republic - 489 votes to 37 - because some German MEPs deplore Prague's failure to repeal post-1945 laws expelling ethnic Germans.

Many opponents also worried that the pro-American stance of applicant countries such as Poland over the war in Iraq would only deepen existing EU divisions.

The leader of the parliament's socialist bloc, Enrique Baron Crespo, said there were doubts and fears in Europe over the behaviour of the Bush administration.

End of chapter

He urged the leaders of existing and future EU countries to express their support for the central role of the UN in the reconstruction of Iraq, when they gather in Athens next week to sign the accession treaty allowing the new members to join.

We are going to join the EU at a very difficult moment for Europe, for the world as a whole, and we are prepared for it, I believe
Czech deputy prime minister Petr Mares
Czech deputy prime minister Petr Mares said he was disappointed that one single issue had overshadowed his country's achievements, but he welcomed the vote anyway.

"I would describe it as the end of the beginning for us - one chapter of our history has ended today, the chapter full of enthusiasm and expectations, and another has opened, a chapter of hard work," he said.

"We are going to join the EU at a very difficult moment for Europe, for the world as a whole, and we are prepared for it, I believe."

National parliaments of the EU will now have to vote on the 10 candidates taken together. All 15 must ratify the expansion.

Voters in Slovenia and Malta have already approved membership in national referendums.

Hungary will be the next country to vote on Saturday.




SEE ALSO:
EU expansion triggers pay contest
04 Mar 03  |  Business
The EU's spending challenge
30 Jan 03  |  Europe
The EU enlargement quiz
02 Dec 02  |  Europe
Czechs spurn neighbours' demands
24 Apr 02  |  Europe
Hungary on brink of EU
09 Apr 03  |  Europe
Slovenia votes for EU and Nato
24 Mar 03  |  Europe
Maltese back EU entry
09 Mar 03  |  Europe


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