EU enlargement plan gets broad agreement


The approach of the European Commission's "Agenda 2000" programme for enlargement and budget reform post-1999 is broadly acceptable to memberstates, a report to foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg today will say.

In its first attempt to summarise reactions to the landmark programme, due to be approved at December's summit , the Luxembourg presidency will today present ministers with an assessment by ambassadors of Agenda 2000.

Crucially, there is an acceptance by all member-states except Spain of the spending ceiling of 1.27 per cent of Union GDP, although Irish officials have made clear that they do not want the figure to be cast in stone for all time. Differences are acknowledged - notably between Germany, the Netherlands and the rest - on net contributions to the Union budget.

There appears to be a broad agreement on the recommendation to start negotiations early next year with the first five (plus Cyprus) of the 10 applicants from central and eastern Europe - Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Slovenia - although the Nordic states are still pressing the case of the other Baltic states.

But the ambassadors also make clear they are disappointed by progress in all the applicant countries. They report "a consensus" that "all the candidate states are currently characterised by weakness and a need to make substantial progress in nearly all fields".

The report insists it will not be sufficient for applicant states to incorporate EU legislation and procedures into their law, but to show a real capacity to enforce them. It expresses serious concern about the work still to be done on environmental and nuclear safety issues and the need to "consolidate law-based states".

The restructurings of heavy industry and the financial sector still represent major challenges, the report says, as does the issue of free movement of labour.

Ministers are also likely to touch on the issue of diplomatic relations with Iran. EU ambassadors, except for Greece, were recalled from Tehran after a German court ruled in April that Iranian leaders had ordered the killing of four dissidents in the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin in 1992. Iran denies any involvement.

The issue has been complicated in the last few days by US opposition to the proposed investment by the French multinational oil company, Total, of $2 billion in developing Iran's oil fields. The Clinton administration is under pressure from Congress to take sanctions against Total under the Iran-Libya sanctions act (similar to the extra-territorial Helms-Burton legislation which made such sanctions possible against firms trading with Cuba).

EU diplomats have been pressing the US to use its waiver right under the legislation, warning that if it chooses to take on Total it could face European countermeasures.

Ministers also face calls from Denmark to intensify trade sanctions against Burma over human rights but are likely to content themselves with rejecting a request from that country that it be allowed to attend a November co-operation council meeting between the EU and Asian countries.