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Europe prepares to make history


Dec 11th 2002
From The Economist Global Agenda


The Copenhagen summit on European Union enlargement on December 12th-13th could turn out to be the most significant gathering of European leaders for some years

HISTORIC is an overused word, but in the case of the European Unions Copenhagen summit it might just turn out to be an appropriate description. The EUs leaders are meeting in the Danish capital on Thursday and Friday to finalise preparations for a big bang enlargement that will raise the Unions membership from 15 to 25. And that is not all. The EU is also expected to do something that was considered unthinkable until recently: offer Turkey a firm date for entry talks.

The centrepiece of the summit will be formal acceptance of ten applicant countries: Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia from Central Europe; the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; and the islands of Malta and Cyprus. These countries are due to conclude their long and often painful accession negotiations in Copenhagen and to win a formal invitation to join the EU in May 2004. The summit is also expected to endorse requests from Bulgaria and Romania to join in 2007.
But there is still much negotiating to be done. For one thing, member states and applicants have not yet agreed how much money the new members will get once they join. In the run-up to the summit, EU members have closed ranks around a funding plan drawn up by Denmark, which holds the rotating presidency. The plan, presented as a final offer, sets aside euro40.5 billion ($41 billion) of funding for the ten new members between 2004 and 2006. That is euro2 billion short of the amount earmarked for enlargement in 1999, but at the time it was assumed there would be six new members in the next wave, not ten.

EU leaders argue that they can no longer afford to be as generous as they would like, because they are struggling with an economic slowdown and face spending cuts to bring budget deficits back under control. We have been going to the limit of our generosity, said Denmarks foreign minister, Per Stig Moeller. Other countries have also suggested there is no more room for negotiation. Jack Straw, Britains foreign minister, said of the funding plan: It is an absolute ceiling, and that is also accepted by Germany, who are the [EUs] biggest paymaster.

Candidate countries are not amused. They accuse the EU of being mean at a time of great historic importance. In a jointly written article published this week, the prime ministers of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia made a last-ditch plea for generosity. They have won support from the European Commission in Brussels. Its president, Romano Prodi, has appealed to member states to give the new members all the money initially budgeted for expansion back in 1999. EU diplomats have accused Mr Prodi of undermining efforts to persuade the candidates to accept a less generous offer.

Some of the ten first-wave applicants (among them Slovakia and Estonia) have already provisionally concluded accession talks. Others are still haggling. Poland is furthest from completion. As the biggestand arguably the most economically troubledof the candidates, it has chosen to play tough. It still has a long list of unmet demands: it has, for instance, been holding out for bigger farm-production quotas and higher subsidies for farmers, who employ around 20% of the population. Talks with the Poles are expected to go to the wire, perhaps spilling over into the weekend. Denmarks prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has said that the EU would be prepared to walk away if Poland refuses to compromise. Those countries left behind will not get another chance to join the EU before 2007.

Talking Turkey

Like Poland, Turkey will be involved in some tough talking at the summit. EU foreign ministers have agreed to offer the Muslim nation a conditional date for entry talks of July 2005; the condition is that Turkey passes a human-rights review in late 2004. Ankara has said this is unacceptable. The EU, it claims, would be committing an injustice if it fails to start talks with Turkey before the 2004 enlargement. But the Turks are likely to play along in the end, so keen are they to win a place within the EU.
Turkeys bid to join faces opposition from some quarters, such as Valéry Giscard dEstaing, chairman of the EUs constitutional convention. He and those like him point to the countrys poor human-rights record and the fact that Turkey wants credit now for reforms that are still on the drawing-board. Turkeys new government has set out a schedule of legislation to ban the death penalty, outlaw torture, extend freedom of expression and grant cultural rights to the countrys Kurdish minority. But it may be some time before all of these laws are enacted. One of the biggest cheerleaders for Turkish membership of the EU is the United States, which sees the country as a crucial ally in NATO and for operations across the Middle East. We join you side by side in your desire to become a member of the European Union, President George Bush told Tayyip Erdogan, whose Justice and Development Party won a landslide victory in Turkeys general election on November 3rd.

The EUs talks with Turkey will hinge on another set of negotiations, over the future of Cyprus. The island, divided into Greek and Turkish parts since the Turkish army launched an invasion in 1974, has long been the biggest thorn in the side of Turkish relations with Greece, an EU member. This week, the United Nations presented the two sides with its latest reunification plan. The UNs chief negotiator on Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto, is expected to chair last-minute talks between the Greek Cypriot leader, Glafcos Clerides, and Turkish Cypriot officials in Copenhagen. But given both sides intransigence in the past, and the fact that Rauf Denktash, the Turkish Cypriot leader, is apparently too ill to attend the summit, a successful outcome is far from assured. The EU has said it is prepared to admit the Greek part of the island alone if necessary.
If all goes well in Copenhagen, it will go down in history as the place where the EU set in stone its big bang enlargement, ending the cold war division of Europe, and where Turkeys once-unimaginable road to membership started. But EU summits are unpredictable, and there is no guarantee that everything will go to plan.

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