Europe gets jitters over wider union

EU faces its greatest challenge

After years of promises to expand eastwards, the European Union will tomorrow set off down the road to enlargement with the publication of proposals to invite six new members.

The Commission will propose that Slovenia and Estonia should join Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Cyprus in the first wave of new member states.

The proposals will give existing EU leaders a clear choice when they come to finalise the list of new countries during a December meeting in Luxembourg.

The proposals, entitled "Agenda 2000", will also set out plans for major reform of EU policies on farming and aid for poor regions, paving the way for expansion.

The enlargement of the EU coincides with a parallel process occurring in Nato, as both organisations seek to end the old Cold War divisions. For the EU, the current expansion is the most challenging and potentially divisive yet undertaken. It is already causing more friction than the accession of Spain, Portugal and Greece in the 1980s.

The first six applicants (or "five-plus-one" as the group is known, distinguishing Cyprus from the East Europeans) may be full members by 2002. With a total of 10 applicants waiting to join, the expansion could ultimately lead to a European Union of half a billion people, stretching from the Arctic Circle to the Aegean, and from the Black Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.

The difficulties facing would-be members, as they seek to meet the EU's single-market standards, adopt agricultural norms, ensure democratic freedoms and apply EU policies on open borders and the environment, are far-reaching.

But the candidates seem determined to make the grade. For some would- be members, the economic benefit of the EU is now a higher priority than the military security of Nato membership. Nevertheless, the candidates are watching with some trepidation as evidence grows that political will to accept them may be lacking.

Britain has always backed enlargement, some would say because it is likely to dilute federalism. But some countries - such as Spain, Italy, Ireland and Greece - fear expansion, knowing it will divert aid from their own, poorer regions.

Commission proposals for reform of the common agricultural policy (CAP) have been drawn up with enlargement in mind; the idea is to take the burden off the taxpayer and help consumers.

Under plans for reforming structural funds, to be published next week, the Commission envisages a freeze on spending and an overhaul of priorities, which are certain to cause ructions, particularly in poorer southern countries. Even without enlargement, the plans mean a reduction in the number of EU citizens benefiting from structural funds from 51 to 31 per cent.

Germany, hitherto in the vanguard of the supporters of EU expansion, has developed increasingly cold feet due to fears that it will be asked to pay the bill.

The strictures of meeting the Maastricht criteria for the single currency have exacerbated fears about cost across the union.

Should Europe fail to set up a single currency by 1 January 1999, it is widely acknowledged that enlargement would be forced off its tracks.

France is only lukewarm, and French officials have recently questioned whether the EU has the "common vision" necessary to accept new members.

Smaller member states fear expansion will diminish their clout, shifting the balance of power as the new members wield their votes in the Council of Ministers.

The strongest evidence of a cooling towards the eastern neighbours came at the Amsterdam summit, when the existing 15 failed to agree even on mild reforms in readiness for enlargement.

Bitter divisions over expansion also emerged last week within the European Commission, when Jacques Santer, President of the European Commission, and several commissioners, urged restricting first-wave negotiations to Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

Sir Leon Brittan, the trade commissioner, argued against a political fix, saying expert opinions justified Slovenia and Estonia joining too. In the end, the case for broader expansion won the day.

This decision may defuse doubts about the EU's commitment to proceed with enlargement. Had the smaller list been agreed at Commission level, the prospects of a broader enlargement being endorsed by member states would have been small, and accusations from candidates of political double- dealing would have been levelled against Brussels.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
Life and Style
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions