EU gets to grips with new entrants

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SWEDEN has said that even if it joins the European Union, it will need a further vote before it enters a single currency.

The statement emphasises that the negotiations on enlargement have now entered their most delicate stage, with consideration of the issues in the Maastricht treaty at last on the table. This covers economic and monetary union, defence and foreign policy and co-operation over immigration and criminal affairs.

Every country except Britain and Denmark is committed to moving straight into the third stage of monetary union - a single currency - when it is decided by the EU's Council of Ministers. But yesterday Ulf Dinkelspiel, Sweden's negotiator in Brussels, said a further parliamentary vote would be necessary in his country.

This is unlikely to be a serious obstacle to the negotiations. Other countries, including Germany, have already said they want a domestic vote before a single currency becomes a reality. But it shows that the really tricky issues are still to be resolved, with the hoped-for deadline for the talks only a few months away. Yesterday's meeting in Brussels was intended to give the process a boost.

Sweden, Finland, Austria and Norway are all negotiating with the aim of being in the European Union by 1995. For this to be feasible, they would have to complete negotiations by spring. Each will put the issue to a referendum. There have been warning signs from both the new entrants and the EU that the timetable is slipping.

One of the most sensitive issues that must be resolved concerns the EU's common foreign and security policy. Sweden, Finland and Austria are neutral. Each says it can accept the Maastricht treaty's provisions, but Finland in particular continues to stress that it will keep its own independent defence. 'We are not seeking new military arrangements,' the country told its neighbours at a meeting of the Nordic Council yesterday. Since it has an 800-mile border with Russia, the country is at great pains not to panic Moscow.

Nor is progress on the main issues involved in the talks - farming and regional policy - smooth. Heikki Haavisto, the Finnish Foreign Minister, said on Monday he was concerned at indications from Brussels that Finland would not get special arrangements for its farmers if it joined. The environment - all four are very committed to green policies - will also be a crucial area for the forthcoming talks.

Another sensitive issue is preventing outsiders from buying holiday homes.