Politics: Britain to host conference for applicants for EU membership

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Robin Cook promises that when it holds the EU presidency, Britain will foster a partnership between European Union applicants and existing members, writes Alan Murdoch in Dublin

Britain will host a special European conference next year during its EU presidency to which all applicants for membership will be invited.

The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, said it would encourage partnership between the EU and those applicant countries less likely to be admitted in the next intake.

Mr Cook reminded the Institute of European Affairs in Dublin that several were applicants to both Nato and the EU. The conference would reduce the risk of those not being admitted to the EU feeling snubbed. "Our own view is that Turkey should be invited to that conference," he said.

He said Britain's priorities during the presidency would be action on crime, jobs and the environment, and developing an EU code of conduct on arms exports. He also promised to use Britain's own experience to ensure liberalisation of the EU telecommunications markets, due on 1 January, "is effective and on time".

Britain's term will involve overseeing which countries qualify for the third stage of economic and monetary union. He claimed Britain's delayed EMU entry timetable could be an advantage by giving the EU presidency an "impartial" chair. After the talks he had separate meetings with Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister and David Andrews the Foreign Minister, and said that he had encountered "an understanding of our position on the single currency" while in Dublin.

"The talks underline the extent to which Britain and Ireland are good friends and working partners," he said.

"I do not believe there will be any problem with Britain in acting as president of the EU in relation to the single currency."

Mr Cook also reported "a very strong welcome and support" in Dublin for Britain's initiative on human rights.

"Ireland is one of the countries closest to us in the European Union with a common agenda. During this visit, we have identified a lot of common ground," he said.

Mr Cook also discussed the Northern Ireland peace process with Mr Andrews and said he assured him that the British government was strongly committed to making it a success.

But he refused to be drawn on the consequences of last week's election of the Belfast-based law professor and self-confessed nationalist, Mary McAleese, as the new President of Ireland.

He said only: "I have congratulated the Irish people on the successful way in which they have shown the place for women in politics is at the top.

"Mary McAleese will, I am sure, be a very fitting successor to Mary Robinson, whose period as President of Ireland was so successful."

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