EU reassures would-be members
By CNN European Political Editor, Robin Oakley
GOTHENBURG, Sweden -- EU leaders have assured the 13 applicant countries for membership that those best qualified can hope to conclude negotiations by the end of next year.
At the latest assembly of world leaders to be disfigured by street rioting and violence, the prospective members were also told they should be able to participate “as members” in the European parliament elections due in 2004.
On the last day of their Gothenburg summit the 15 EU leaders also signalled their continuing disagreement with President George W. Bush by announcing that all 15 would sign the Kyoto Protocol on climate change by the end of the year.
In addition they agreed to send a high-powered delegation around the world to persuade other major countries to sign up too. Immediate targets are Canada, Australia, Russia and Japan.
Goran Persson, the Swedish prime minister and summit host, said: “The Kyoto Protocol is the only tool we have” adding “climate change is not isolated to Europe or the US, it is a global threat.”
The EU is seeking ways of increasing its diplomatic clout to reflect its economic importance.
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has said it needs to become “not a superstate but a superpower.”
The EU leaders have reflected that not only with their move on Kyoto but with a newly announced plan to appoint an envoy to the fragile state of Macedonia and by seeking an increased role in the Middle East.
Javier Solana, the security chief of the EU, and Chris Patten, the External Affairs Commissioner, have been frequent visitors to Macedonia, seeking to broker peace between the Albanian rebels and the precarious government of national unity.
The appointment of an EU envoy to Macedonia is a logical move forward, particularly after President Bush on his visit to Europe showed no particular interest in exerting leadership over the future of the troubled country, which has been seeking NATO assistance.
With a 12-day ceasefire agreement between the warring parties apparently holding, EU foreign ministers have invited Macedonian party leaders to their next meeting in Luxembourg on June 25 in the hope of building on peace efforts. The EU is backing the peace plan proposed by President Boris Trajkovski.
The EU leaders issued the first ever joint EU-US declaration on the Middle East when Bush was in town with them.
Now they are trying to use their position as Israel’s biggest external market and as the biggest aid contributors to the Palestinian Authority to exert more clout in the area.
In their final communique they called on Israel to suspend the building of Jewish settlements and to lift the blockade on Palestinian territories.
On EU enlargement the Gothenburg meeting sought to calm the worries of the applicant countries that the existing 15 were dragging their feet on expansion.
Squabbles over the determination of some existing members to maintain their present regional subsidy levels and over restrictions on the freedom of workers from newly admitted countries to cross borders in search of jobs had worried the applicant countries.
So had the rejection by the Irish of the Nice Treaty, which changes EU institutions to prepare the way for expansion.
Persson assured the would-be EU members who met with the 15 in Gothenburg that nothing was slowing down. He told them “Enlargement is irreversible” and promised them that it would be pursued with “undiminished vigour”.
But the Swedes, who had vowed to use their six months in the EU presidency to speed the enlargement process and name firm admission dates, will have been disappointed not only that their major summit was distracted by the worst street violence their country has seen but by the lack of precise language in the summit communique.
The communique only lists the 2004 date as an “objective”. Opponents of firm dates, who felt that they would weaken the EU’s negotiating position, included the French and the Germans.
Germany’s Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, emphasised the reservations when he declared: “We can accept the 2004 deadline because it is a goal. We will have to wait and see if we reach it.”
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