EU vs candidates: fight to the finish?

The Danish Presidency is confident that the European Council can complete the enlargement negotiations with the 10 candidate states prior to or during the Copenhagen summit on 12-13 December. However, intense bargaining is foreseen until the very last minute.

Alongside the estimated 100 bilateral questions that need to be resolved before Copenhagen, the major bones of contention in the negotiations concern aid to farmers and the size of rebates paid to the candidates to ensure they do not become net contributors to the EU budget.

The candidate states are generally opposed to the idea that their farmers would receive only 25 per cent of the aid granted to current member states in 2004, the first year of membership. This sum is scheduled to increase to 100 per cent only over a 10-year period.

To improve on the original offers, Denmark has said the candidates should be allowed to top up this amount to 40 per cent, partly by diverting national funds destined for rural development into farmers’ pockets.

Meanwhile, the Presidency has been increasingly caught between the demands of the candidate countries and the concerns of the Member States. Last week, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen indicated that if the candidates hold out too far and too long, they risk missing out on the current round of enlargement.

 

The biggest candidate, Poland, and the smallest, Malta, appear to be the least open to compromise.

On 6 December,Polandreiterated its demand for an extra billion euros in EU funds, both for its farmers and to ease the costs of accession. "At the present negotiation stage, there are two issues of vital importance for Poland and the remaining nine countries aspiring for EU membership: convincing the leaders of the EU countries that the Danish proposal should be accepted and striving for an additional 1.2 billion euro, so that the amount set aside for EU enlargement reaches the value proposed in 1999," Poland's Prime Minister Leszek Miller said on 2 December.

Mr Miller added that in 1999 at the Berlin summit, the EU leaders proposed a higher amount for EU enlargement and that this amount was reduced by 2.5 billion euro at the Brussels summit this year. However, the Danish Presidency, supported by many Member States, insists that there is no more money available.

TheCzech Republic, which along withHungaryis also seeking more money for its farmers, was upset by Poland's apparent breaking ranks with its fellow candidates over the issue of farming subsidies. "To put it simply, we will go together, but never against each other", said Cze ch Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla in reaction to the Polish demands.

ForMalta, the key issues remain agricultural subsidies and zero-rated VAT on food and medicines.

The six countries which were reportedly ready to accept the Danish package did so "with the proviso that if the EU leaders in Copenhagen agree to improve the package for one country that they will improve it for all," a Brussels-based diplomat has told reporters. A few candidates have indicated they will hold out until the Copenhagen summit in the hope of wringing last-minute concessions from the EU.

 

The improved Danish accession package, presented to the EU candidate countries on 25 November (seeEURACTIV 27 November 2002), proposed around 2.45 billion euro in extra aid to the candidates on top of the sums confirmed at the Brussels summit. The new Danish package, which has not yet been endorsed by the Member States, was already challenged by Germany. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said that the EU should "keep strictly to the finance decisions made in Brussels". Meanwhile, Britain has accepted it in principle as being the "outer limit". France has said it could "support most of the package". However, according to a diplomat, "Most Member States feel that the Danish package is the absolute limit of what they can accept, and some feel that we have already gone beyond that limit."

Reporting on the status of the negotiations on 6 December, the Presidency said six of the candidates were ready to accept the terms spelled out its improved accession package, and it expressed optimism that the remaining four countries will follow suit. Cyprus, Slovakia, Latvia and Estonia have practically completed negotiations. The ex-Yugoslav republic of Slovenia is also nearing acceptance. Lithuania needs to finalise a few details regarding the status of the Russia enclave of Kaliningrad.

 

Intense bargaining will likely continue well into the 11th hour. On 9 December, a special ministerial-level round of enlargement talks is held in Brussels, and on 10 December the EU's foreign ministers will discuss the agreements' financial implications. At the Copenhagen summit on 12-13 December, the EU is scheduled to formally conclude accession negotiations with 10 countries. The Accession Treaty will be signed in Athens in April 2003.

 

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe
Contribute