NEWS

The long and winding road: How enlargement works

BRUSSELS (AFP) – Some facts about EU enlargement, ahead of today’s annual progress reports to be presented by EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen: -Six countries have been in negotiations since 1988: Hungary, Poland, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Cyprus. Six more followed in 2000: Romania, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Malta. -Turkey was officially recognized in 1999 as an EU candidate, but it cannot start accession talks with Brussels before it is seen to have made progress on democracy, human rights and minority rights. -Each country negotiates with the European Commission, which takes its instructions from the 15 incumbent EU member states. -Negotiations involve going through 31 chapters of EU legislation, or acquis communautaire, which the candidates must adopt in order to join the European Union. -Candidates must also meet the Copenhagen Criteria: stable democratic institutions, a competitive market economy and the ability to take on the obligations of EU membership. -The most difficult issues have yet to be be tackled: agriculture and regional subsidies, in which billions of euros are at stake. -The European Commission wants complete negotiations with as many candidate countries as possible in 2002. -At a summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, last June, EU leaders agreed all candidates ready to join the EU should be able to do so in time for European Parliament elections in June 2004. -With 10 of the 12 being former communist states, the European Union is providing 3.3 billion euros ($3 billion) a year to the candidates in preaccession development aid. -Accession treaties with the candidates are subject to ratification by each of the incumbent member states. They also need the assent of the European Parliament. -Each newcomer is expected to adopt the euro when they are ready to do so, but not immediately upon accession. -When enlargement is completed, the EU will number 500 million citizens from the Iberian peninsula to the Ukraine border. -Forty-three percent of EU citizens support enlargement, with 35 percent against, but 55 percent think a bigger EU would be a better guarantee of peace and security, according to a Euro Barometer poll released last July. -Institutional reforms necessary for the EU to function effectively with 12 new member countries were approved at a summit in Nice, France, last December, but have not yet been ratified by all the member states. -The last countries to join the EU were Austria, Finland and Sweden in 1995. Britain joined in 1973, on its third try.