EC to improve links with East Europe

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The Independent Online
THE European Community will draw up criteria for admitting Eastern European states before December's Edinburgh summit, John Major said yesterday. But after a meeting with the prime ministers of Poland, Hungary and the Czech and Slovak republics, there was no timetable for their admission and no new substantive economic concessions.

At a summit in London between the 'Visegrad Three' countries, Mr Major and Jacques Delors, President of the EC Commission, set out plans for more regular political dialogue. 'This will set the framework for regular discussions . . . on major foreign policy issues which confront us both,' Mr Major said. The dialogue will include meetings of ministers and officials. The meeting agreed to various other exchanges and links, including training, commercial exchanges and parliamentary visits.

Full EC membership is the goal of all three. 'I am very much in favour of the enlargement of the Community. No doubt about that,' Mr Delors said. 'As soon as it appears that these countries are prepared to join the Community, we will accept them,' Mr Major said.

The Edinburgh summit would come up with criteria for aspirant Eastern European members, which would help them to set domestic policies, the Prime Minister said. All three already have association agreements with the EC, which Mr Major said were 'a stepping- stone . . . towards full membership of the EC'. But the Prime Minister said no timetable for membership could be set.

The association agreements, which contain restrictions on trade in sensitive sectors like agriculture, have not satisfied the Eastern Europeans. 'We need to liberalise trade, we need to dismantle the existing barriers,' Vaclav Klaus, the Czech Prime Minister, said. Jozsef Antall, Hungary's Prime Minister, said before the meeting: 'We all know the Iron Curtain has been demolished, but in its place an economic and social curtain might come down.'

The political dialogue is an attempt to extend some confidence in future security arrangements to Eastern Europe, which is outside Nato but faces instability. Mrs Suchocka said Nato was a 'guarantee all over Europe, not just the West'. But Nato has also held the Eastern European states at arm's length.

One reason why the EC is in no hurry to extend the waiting-list of aspirant members is that it is already preparing for the accession of Sweden, Austria, Finland and Switzerland, and is about to create a free-trade European Economic Area (EEA) with them. The Commission will deliver its opinion on Finland's membership next week. Finland's President, Mauno Koivisto, said yesterday he was confident his country could meet terms for joining the European Community, though Finland, like Sweden and Switzerland, is neutral.

ZURICH - The prince and parliament of Liechtenstein yesterday settled a row over European integration, Reuter reports. Prince Hans Adam II had threatened to dismiss government and parliament after they refused to accept his schedule for a referendum on joining the EEA. But the prince and a cross- party commission of former politicians agreed on a compromise statement.

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