Second No vote could delay EU enlargement 'for years'

 

A second Irish rejection of the Nice Treaty could delay enlargement "for years", Denmark's Prime Minister has warned. Mr Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the EU had no alternative framework for accepting new member-states if Ireland votes No again.

"Ratification of the Nice Treaty is a political condition of enlargement. The negotiations on enlargement have taken place on the basis of Nice. A new No would jeopardise the whole enlargement process."

Denmark assumes the EU Presidency for six months on Monday. Mr Rasmussen said he was confident that accession negotiations with up to 10 candidate countries could be completed by December. However he warned that any delay could drive enlargement off the EU's agenda for at least three years. "We risk postponing enlargement for years if we do not reach this deadline."

He welcomed last week's declarations on Irish neutrality from the Seville summit, but added that he would not interfere in the referendum campaign.

He insisted that the EU had no "plan B" if Ireland rejected Nice a second time. However, history would be unforgiving if the EU missed the historic opportunity to reunite the continent divided by the Cold War.

"It would be a political disaster and the judgment of posterity would be severe if this generation of European politicians were to fail to make a decision on enlargement."

Apart from Ireland's referendum, Mr Rasmussen identified German opposition to extending direct payments to farmers in central and eastern Europe as a potential stumbling block in the way of enlargement. He poured scorn on the German position, adding that the issue of reforming the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) must be kept separate from enlargement negotiations.

Bitter rows are already looming over farm subsidies and finance, with little agreement likely before September's elections in Germany. Faltering negotiations over Cyprus are also a potential problem.

Mr Rasmussen insisted that plans to reform CAP, which consumes nearly half of the Union's $88 billion budget, could not be a precondition for enlargement.

Some of the 10 candidates - Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Malta and Cyprus - are deeply unhappy with an offer of just 25 per cent of the direct farm payments given to existing members, rising to 100 per cent over 10 years.

In Latvia, Denmark's Foreign Minister, Mr Per Stig Möller, sought to dampen expectations among candidate states that they might win substantially more funds from Brussels in accession talks.

"There will not be any more money from the European Union," he told a news conference during a visit to the Baltic state.

Mr Möller said the goal of uniting democratic Europe was more important than cross-border cash payments, but added that there was room for discussion.

"It's not take it or leave it," he said, adding that there would be bilateral negotiations with candidates to deal with specific problems faced by each country.

Next month the European Commission is due to unveil plans to partially overhaul CAP, though fuller changes will have to wait until 2006.

From 2003 there will be big distractions in the form of constitutional discussions about the EU's future, treaty negotiations and skirmishing over a new budget.