Europeans approve new members

The European Parliament’s members held an historic vote yesterday, approving the accession of 10 candidate countries – including Cyprus – and setting the stage for the signing of the accession treaty in Athens next Wednesday. The vote was the last step taken at the level of EU institutions and now it will be up to the parliaments of the 15 member states to have the final say. In yesterday’s vote, Cyprus got 507 votes in favor, 29 against and 26 abstentions. The Czech Republic got the least yes votes (489) while Latvia, Hungary and Slovenia each got 522. The other candidates are Estonia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland and the Slovak Republic. Among those who voted against Cyprus’s accession (and indeed all other candidates) were Communist Party of Greece members Stratis Korakas, Costas Alyssandrakis and Yiannis Patakis, who joined forces with extreme-right «Europhobes» in opposing enlargement. Alyssandrakis is a member of the EU-Cyprus joint parliamentary committee, whose aim is to ease Cyprus’s accession to the EU. Guenter Verheugen, the commissioner for EU enlargement, said he did not foresee any problems with the national parliaments’ ratification of the accession. His only regret was that an agreement on Cyprus, enabling the entry of a united island into the EU to take place, had not been reached. He promised his support for any further ongoing talks under the UN. The accession treaties will be signed at a ceremony attended by the heads of the 15 EU members and candidate countries at the Stoa of Attalos in Athens’s Ancient Agora. Alternate Greek Foreign Minister Tassos Yiannitsis, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, told the European Parliament that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had also been invited. «With the European summit, we will be able to discuss the role of the UN and the humanitarian aspects of the Iraq crisis. Mr Annan has accepted the invitation,» he said. Government spokesman Christos Protopappas expressed the hope that anti-war protests will be peaceful. «Everyone must remember that on April 16, the eyes of the world will be on Athens,» he said.