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Last Updated: Saturday, 18 June 2005, 00:07 GMT 01:07 UK
EU leaders cautious on enlargement
By Oana Lungescu
BBC News, Brussels

Romanian man runs past fake cow painted with EU symbol
Accession should take place as planned for Bulgaria and Romania
European Union leaders have said they will stick to their pledge to admit Bulgaria and Romania despite the crisis over the EU constitution and the bloc's budget.

But despite welcoming the signing of their accession treaty, they have not mentioned any accession dates.

In conclusions for the Brussels summit, the leaders remained cautious over the prospects for Turkey and half a dozen Balkan countries lining up to join.

They also restated their commitment to help find a settlement on Kosovo.

Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who was chairing the summit, was asked if Romania, a country of 22 million people, could fear a delay.

"There is no predetermined will of the EU leaders to delay Romania's accession," he said.

"The accession treaty was signed. It will be entirely respected, which means that Romania must answer in a timely fashion to all the demands of the treaty.

"For the rest, EU member states will also respect all the commitments and provisions of the accession treaty."

French concerns

Romanian Foreign Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu said his country and Bulgaria, which were both participating as active observers at this summit, had received assurances of support from all EU member states.

"Romania and Bulgaria are part of the club and so should they be considered," he said.

"As for enlargement in general, after gulping this large chunk of political geography, we need some time to rest - quote, unquote - this is the basic meaning of their words."

EU leaders were never expected to discuss enlargement at this summit.

But French President Jacques Chirac reminded them that the main role of the European constitution had been to make an enlarged Europe work better.

"In this new situation, can the EU continue to expand without us having the institutions needed to make this enlarged EU work effectively?" he said.

German with placard against Turkey's EU accession
Turkey's perspective membership is particularly contentious
His speech was seen as a veiled reference to popular concerns over the admission of Turkey, but only a handful of his colleagues backed his idea of a special summit to review enlargement and Europe's direction generally.

It is almost as if EU leaders are trying to keep their future enlargement plans as low-key as possible in order to avoid upsetting their voters even more.

The conclusions include only one terse sentence about enlargement, without mentioning either Turkey or Croatia by name.

Turkey is due to start membership talks in October, providing it extends its customs agreement to the EU's 10 new members including Cyprus, which it is in the process of doing.

Balkans' future

Croatia has also been promised it can begin negotiations as soon as it locates fugitive General Ante Gotovina, indicted for war crimes by the international criminal tribunal in The Hague.

EU leaders recall those decisions, made in December, and stress "the need to implement them fully".

Other promises may take even longer to fulfil. EU leaders have repeated an assurance given in 2003 that the future of the Balkan countries also lies in the EU, provided they increase regional co-operation, speed up reforms, hold free elections and fully co-operate with the international war crimes tribunal.

In a separate declaration on the future status of Kosovo, the EU has left the door open for a conditional independence of the disputed territory, by ruling out any partition or union of Kosovo with another country, as well as any solution resulting from the use of force.

The UN is planning to launch talks on the status of Kosovo this autumn, while Serbia - of which Kosovo is still nominally a part - will be celebrating five years since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic.

Next month also marks the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre.

The Balkans is at a critical stage, when negative signals from Brussels could seriously set back reforms and encourage nationalist and extremist forces.

The lengthy paragraphs on the troubled region in the summit's conclusions are an acknowledgement of the region's continued importance to stability in Europe.

But sooner rather than later, the EU will have to deliver more than just words.

Why EU membership could bring mixed blessings to Romania

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