Verheugen appeals to Irish to be open to EU expansion


Irish voters hold the hopes of 10 mostly east European countries in their hands in their forthcoming referendum on the European Union's Nice Treaty and should open their minds to EU enlargement, European Commissioner Mr Günter Verheugen said yesterday.

"I do not believe that especially in Ireland, where people have seen so many advantages [from EU membership\] . . . people would prefer a closed shop," Mr Verheugen told the European World Economic Forum in Salzburg.

"I would like to appeal to the Irish people, it is not only the future of Ireland . . . perhaps even more [it is\] the future of Slovenia, Estonia, Bulgaria," Mr Verheugen said.

Candidate countries also warned against any delay to expansion, saying that any dithering by the 15-member European Union would kill enthusiasm in countries which are lining up to join the bloc.

"An unsuccessful referendum in Ireland probably would represent a problem for the pace of enlargement," Slovenian Prime Minister Mr Janez Drnovsek told the conference.

Slovenia is one of the richest accession states, boasting a standard of living close to the EU's, yet it too faces problems and is desperately trying to avoid being a net contributor to EU funds from the day it joins the Union. "We need a pragmatic approach now. I am really afraid that if there is some delay at the moment, the situation could become very difficult," Mr Drnovsek said.

Apart from the Irish referendum, there are other pitfalls on the road to enlargement, as discussions on the controversial issue of agriculture, which is massively subsidised in the EU, have been left until last.

Enlargement for the 10 leading candidates is also crucial for those countries waiting for the second wave of accession, Romania and Bulgaria, as well as for less-developed Balkan states such as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Romanian and Bulgarian officials called for a clear calendar for their accession to avoid disillusionment with the process. - (Reuters)