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?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering