Accession of 10 new states to EU put back by four months


EU: European Union foreign ministers have agreed that the Union's enlargement to include 10 new member-states should be postponed by four months to May 1st, 2004.

The ministers said in Brussels yesterday that the postponement was designed to give the candidate countries a year to ratify accession treaties that are due to be signed in Athens in April 2003.

"The council decided that the accession of these countries to the Union would take place on May 1st, 2004. Accordingly, it was confirmed that these countries will participate as member-states in the 2004 elections for the European Parliament.

"The Commissioners from the new member-states will join the Commission upon accession," the ministers said in a joint statement.

Commissioners from the new member-states will be without portfolio until a new commission is appointed, probably in October 2004, three months ahead of schedule.

And the foreign ministers confirmed that the new member-states would take part as full partners in an Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC) to follow the Convention on the Future of Europe.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Cowen, said 95 per cent of the negotiations with candidate countries were now complete.

The EU would seek to address the concerns of candidate countries, particularly over the financing of enlargement. But he ruled out any renegotiation of the deal on farm subsidies agreed in Brussels last month. "Clearly, there is no room for manoeuvre in relation to direct payments," he said.

The candidate countries could get a better deal on farm subsidies by receiving bigger quotas or national top-up payments. And postponing accession by four months will benefit new member-states because they will receive a full year of EU subsidies but only pay into the EU budget for eight months.

Mr Cowen welcomed the full participation of the new member-states in shaping the treaty that will follow the Convention. He said the Convention appeared to be working well, but stressed that any new treaty must be approved by national leaders.

"All political decisions will be made in the IGC process," he said.

Belgium's Prime Minister, Mr Guy Verhofstadt, yesterday proposed that the Commission should become smaller but more powerful. The Commission President would be elected by the European Parliament and confirmed by the European Council of EU leaders and would chair EU summits.

"What we should do is reinforce legitimacy by having the President of the Commission elected by the Parliament, a choice which will then be ratified by the European Council," Mr Verhofstadt said.

Under the Belgian plan, EU ministerial councils would be split into a legislative body, which would work alongside the European Parliament to pass laws, and an executive branch which, along with the Commission, would execute policy. The commissioners would chair their respective executive councils.

Mr Cowen said the Government favoured a strong Commission but he was cautious on proposals to extend its powers. There were serious questions about plans to incorporate the Charter of Fundamental Rights into an EU treaty.