EU applicants delay enlargement in drive for better terms

Ten mostly former communist countries will join the EU on 1 May 2004, four months later than planned, foreign ministers agreed yesterday.

The 10 candidates now almost certain to join – Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia – plan to wrap up talks at a summit in Copenhagen next month. They fought a rearguard action to secure a better deal from Brussels yesterday.

The decision to admit the states in May rather than January was prompted by logistics. Each applicant is expected to hold a referendum in 2003 on an accession treaty – which has to be ratified by the 15 EU nations.

Most of the new member states had assumed a 1 January starting date, and Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, Poland's Foreign Affairs minister, said yesterday that the delay must not compromise their right to play a full part in talks on the future of Europe. That row was defused when foreign ministers said the new countries will "participate fully" in negotiations on the shape of an enlarged Union that may begin next year, giving them an effective veto.

They will also be allowed a European commissioner from 1 May 2004 and will be full participants in the European elections in June 2004. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said that "negotiations are on track for satisfactory conclusion at Copenhagen".

But differences remain on financing enlargement. Mr Cimoszewicz argued for a cut in Poland's contribution in the first year but no cut in payments from Brussels. "We are not satisfied with the present offer [of subsidy] for our agriculture. We have to make a last effort to increase direct payments and quotas for farmers.''

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