EU official predicts enlargement in 2003

The European Union’s enlargement commissioner, Guenther Verheugen, estimated yesterday that the Enlargement Treaty, admitting as many as 10 Eastern European countries, plus Cyprus and Malta, into the EU, will be signed at the end of March or the beginning of April 2003. Verheugen, on a visit to Athens, told reporters, half-jokingly, that he had asked Greek officials whether they were ready to stage the signing ceremony for the enlargement treaty «under the shadow of the Acropolis.» Greece will hold the rotating EU presidency in the first half of 2003. Verheugen met with Foreign Minister George Papandreou and the members of the standing parliamentary committee on European Affairs. Verheugen not only assured MPs that Cyprus’s accession to the EU would not be hampered by the unsolved issue of the occupation of the northern part of the island by Turkey, but went a step further, saying that «it must be made clear that the result of a (UN-mediated) solution will be a single international identity for Cyprus.» The internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot government calls for a federation of the Greek and Turkish communities under a single state, while Turkish-Cypriot leaders and Turkey call for a loose federation of two equal states. Asked about recent threats by Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit that Turkey would annex the occupied part of Cyprus in case of Cypriot accession to the EU, Verheugen replied: «we have demonstrated that these threats do not impress us and Turkey knows they hurt it,» adding that such a move would spell an end to Turkey’s hopes to join the EU.

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