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Europe

EU Enlargement Overshadowed by Discontent

The ten candidate countries lining up to join the EU are unhappy with Brussels’ enlargement budget and the fact that expansion will be postponed by several months at a summit in Warsaw.

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Don't worry - Tony Blair's message to Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller (far left)

The ten countries poised for European Union membership, unsatisfied with the EU’s financial package for enlargement, adopted a tough stance at a summit in Warsaw.

On Friday, the ten, mainly from the former communist bloc, set out a common demand for entry terms which would not leave them financially worse off when they join the European Union in 2004.

"The net budgetary position of the new member states should be better that their position prior to their entry into the EU," said a joint statement presented by Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller after talks in Warsaw.

Candidates worried obout not getting a fair deal

Poland, Hungary, the Czech and Slovak republics, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Mediterranean islands of Cyprus and Malta fear that the EU’s slow phase-in of aid to the tune of 40 billion euro proposed in Brussels‘ enlargement budget would leave their coffers empty initially. The financial package offered at last month’s EU summit in Brussels is 2,5 billion euro less than the original budget proposed by the European Commission.

The candidate countries are also peeved that crunch issues such as the budget, agricultural aid and infrastructure funding are still to be resolved ahead of the EU’s enlargement summit In December in Copenhagen.

Agricultural aid in particularly remains a sticking point with the candidate countries, as they will initially only receive a quarter of the subsidies common in the West, for farming.

According to a EU resolution, the ten new entries will only receive the same support as the West from the EU in the year 2013. At the Warsaw summit, the ten east European candidates demanded that the EU raise the initial agricultural aid and cut short the waiting period.

Poland, with its massive agricultural sector, led calls for the EU to improve a proposal to phase in direct payments to farmers over 10 years, starting at 25 percent of EU levels.

Candidates argue that if there is a delay to full farm payments, allocated under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, their financial contributions to the EU budget should be capped accordingly.

Brussels puts finishing touches to new deal

However Brussels has been involved in drawing up a new package that includes cash and concessions to seal a deal on enlargement.

The ten countries are to offered an extra 1-2 billion euro and a range of other concessions ranging from increasing some farm quotas to a provision allowing hunters in Latvia to continue their pursuit of bear and lynx.

The new package is to be discussed by EU foreign ministers next week and designed to pave the way for an agreement with candidate states at the Copenhagen summit inDecember.

Blair tries to allay concerns

European social democratic leaders including Britain’s Tony Blair, who attended the Warsaw summit, attempted to soothe candidates‘ fears.

After meeting with Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller, Blair promised that candidates would not lose out, though he did not elaborate.

"The whole purpose of the negotiations is to make sure that no accession country is worse off as a result," Blair said.

"For Poland and the Polish people I believe that membership of the European Union will mean a great deal in terms of living standards and for Polish influence in the world."

EU postpones enlargement

The discontent ahead of the Warsaw meeting was heightened by the disclosure that the EU had a set a new target date for the ten new countries to join. Originally slated for January 2004, the entry of the ten new states has now been postponed to April or May 2004.

Günther Verheugen, EU enlargement commissioner urged candidate states not to worry about the delay. He said that it would take time for the EU’s 15 member states to ratify the treaty paving the way for accession.

Speaking in Warsaw on Thursday, he said, "We cannot put 6,000 (pages) of treaty on the table and then tell national parliaments, `You have six months to read it, ratify it and sign it`."

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