Verheugen sees 2003 as realistic for enlargement

Enlargement Commissioner Verheugen said that 2003 was a “realistic date” for EU’s first enlargement.

Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen said in Luxembourg on 10 October that 2003 was a “realistic date” for the EU’s first enlargement. He did not say, however, which countries could join the EU as early as in 2003, and he stressed there were no guarantees that enlargement would happen in 2003.

If there is an enlargement in 2003, Estonia, Hungary, Malta and Slovenia are seen by EU officials as the best prepared for the first round. The Czech Republic and Poland are seen as slightly lagging behind this group.

Nordic members of the EU are pressing for early enlargement, but also UK Prime Minister Tony Blair set the year 2004 as a target date in his recent speech in Warsaw.

The Commission is set to publish upbeat reports on the progress of all candidate countries on 8 November. The reports are expected to give a positive assessment of improvements in the candidate countries, however most officials believe that 2003 is unrealistic, and that 2005 is more likely as the date for first enlargement.

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