EU `associates' join fight against crime


A SPECIAL session with heads of government from the 11 "associated countries" mostly in central and eastern Europe, which hope to join the EU focused on Joint action to combat drugs and crime.

This was the first time that such a session, now a regular feature of EU summits, focused on a specific issue and it ended with agreement to join forces against the international mafia.

The move was an inspired idea of the Irish presidency, German Chancellor, Dr Helmut Kohl, said.

"This was the most open direct meeting we have had with these countries. We were able to discuss in concrete terms what we can and should do together to help the fight against organised crime - not later, but now," he said.

Although the associated countries have not been involved in the EU treaty negotiations, the prime minister of Slovakia, Mr Vladimar Meciar, said they observed the progress with more than an academic interest.

"It is crucial for us that the negotiations are completed on schedule because our negotiations `to join the EU cannot begin until six months after the end of the Inter-Governmental Conference," he said.

Despite his enthusiasm for EU membership, Slovakia is unlikely to be among the first wave of new members.

Countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic (which are more politically and economically prepared for membership) have seen popular support for joining the EU fall recently.

Turkey is not among the 11 associate countries. Its importance for the EU was reflected on Saturday evening, however, when the Tanaiste, Mr Spring, hosted a dinner for its Foreign Minister, Ms Tansuiller, and foreign, ministers from other EU countries. The EU Commission does not believe Turkey is ready to join the EU - partly because of its human rights record.

Other impediments to membership include disputes with Greece over islands in the Aegean and over Cyprus. The Irish presidency made energetic efforts to resolve these disputes.

It oversaw the agreement of an EU investment package for Turkey on condition that its government consider a Greek proposal to seek international arbitration on the future of the Aegean islands.

Although these subjects were `discussed on Saturday, no conclusions were reached and EU officials do not expect a resolution before the end of the Dutch presidency.