Euro-vote may reject Union

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THE door has been opened, but will anybody come in? All four applicant countries have now come to an agreement with the European Union, but it remains to be seen if they actually join, writes Andrew Marshall.

Each must hold a referendum and opinion in three of the four is against. The European Parliament and national parliaments must also give their assent.

Norway became the latest country to tie up a deal with the EU early yesterday morning when the sensitive issue of fish was dealt with. It is a bewilderingly complex deal that involves paper fish (which exist only on paper), foreign fish (which are in Canadian and Russian waters) and cohesion fish (to be given by rich countries to poor ones).

Yesterday Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norway's Prime Minister, welcomed the deal. 'We recommend that Norway seize this historic opportunity to take part in political co-operation in our continent, together with our Nordic neighbours,' she said. But the opposition parties slammed the agreement, setting the scene for a re-run of the 1972 referendum campaign when membership was spurned.

Polls show that the balance of public opinion in Austria, Sweden and Norway is against EU membership at the moment, though about a third of the population in each is undecided. The EU's experience with referenda has not been a happy one over the past few years: a Danish referendum threatened to overthrow the Maastricht treaty; one in France nearly killed it off; and the Swiss decided not to ratify the European Economic Area.

The European Parliament must give its agreement by an absolute majority, which is far from certain. Assuming a deal on voting can be agreed next week, details could be passed on to the Parliament. There is a chance that agreement could be reached before the assembly adjourns for the June elections. This would allow new members to enter on 1 January 1995. If the vote is taken later membership may have to wait.

The key point, officials argue, is that the new members must be in before 1 January 1996, when the EU is due to start negotiations on a new round of internal reforms - the follow-up to Maastricht. No one would want to miss what is predicted to be a vintage European display of mutual hatred and back-stabbing.

(Photograph omitted)