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Tuesday, 15 February, 2000, 16:06 GMT
EU enlargement: Second wave

The opening of formal membership talks between the European Union (EU) and six new states brings the total of states negotiating entry terms to 12.

The countries invited to join this second wave of applicants are Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania and Slovakia, whose foreign ministers are meeting their counterparts in the 15-nation EU in Brussels.

Six other countries - the economically better-prepared Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia - are already nearly two years into the negotiating process.

In all, enlargement will expand the bloc's population by about one-third, though its gross domestic product will rise by barely 5%.

Haphazard growth

The various applicants have set themselves different target dates for entry, with Hungary, Poland and Malta among the earliest, aiming for 2003, while Romania says it might join in 2007.

Before they are allowed in the countries need to modify legislation to fit in with the EU 's three basic principles, of human rights, democracy and market economics, as well technical issues including subsidies, environment and commercial standards.

Expansion means further reform of EU institutions
For its part, the Union must effect internal reforms to ensure procedures are not paralysed by expansion to 27 members, or 28 if Turkey, a current candidate, is formally invited to apply.

EU institutions were originally designed for six countries and changed haphazardly as the EU grew.

A year-long inter-governmental conference (IGC) is being set up handle the changes, which are controversial because they stand to alter the balance of power between existing members.

Wealth gap

An internal crisis resulting from objections to the make-up of the new Austrian government means the entry talks begin at a difficult time.

The eastern European workforce could migrate
Austria's far right Freedom Party has voiced fears about an influx of immigrants from the poorer former Eastern Bloc, four of which have share borders with Austria.

However, the Austrian foreign minister rejected suggestions it was against expansion altogether, but said that it had "special concerns" by having the longest frontier with the eastern candidates.

But analysts say the future advantages tied to EU expansion are undeniable: a bigger internal market, more consumers to sell to, more business opportunities, and stable, prosperous neighbours.
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See also:
15 Feb 00 |  Europe
Austria backs EU enlargement
08 Feb 00 |  Europe
EU trims meeting amid Austria fears
26 Jan 00 |  Europe
Analysis: Can Turkey fit in?
14 Oct 99 |  Europe
EU set to spread east
11 Dec 99 |  Europe
Summit to focus on EU reform
14 Feb 00 |  Europe
Yugoslavia flight ban lifted
12 Jul 99 |  UK Politics
Patten: Moral dimension to enlargement

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