Historic deal gives Europe 75 million new citizens

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The Independent Online

Europe sealed its historic enlargement to 25 nations and 450 million people last night. The deal followed frantic horsetrading over the subsidies to be offered to the mainly ex-Communist countries.

After two long days of negotiations at the EU summit in Copenhagen, the Czech Republic, Hungary and the biggest prospective member, Poland, conceded, claiming they had squeezed more money out of EU coffers. "It was a good deal," said Leszek Miller, the Polish Prime Minister. "We are finally shedding the shadow of Yalta and the post-war division of Europe."

Thirteen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, yesterday's summit was designed to celebrate the reunification of Europe with the admission of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus and Malta. Between them, they will bring 75 million citizens into the EU.

Hailing last night's deal as "dramatic and historic", Tony Blair said: "This is a summit that redefines Europe for the future. This is an extraordinary moment for Europe's history."

The summit also gave a big boost to Europe's defence ambitions, when Turkey removed a long-standing bar on co-operation between the EU's embryonic rapid reaction force and Nato. That raises the prospect of Europe running peace-keeping missions.

The marathon expansion talks, which began on 31 March 1998, under the British presidency of the EU, appeared to have ended in the mid-afternoon, when EU leaders thought a revised offer would break the deadlock.

Under the deal, Poland won the right to spend immediately an extra ¤1bn (£640m) from funds to help its poorer regions, which had been due to be paid out later. Polish officials said the country also gained ¤108m (£70m) to strengthen border controls and increased milk quotas. The other applicant countries gained an additional ¤300m (£193m).

The agreement was clinched after a confusing day, which saw Gerhard Schröder, the German Chancellor, declare that a deal appeared to have been found ­ only for it to be rejected by Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. One Polish government source called the proposal "trying to bribe us with our own money".

Poland, under acute pressure from domestic public opinion, held out for ¤2bn (£1.3bn) more cash for all the candidate countries.

In a series of confrontations with the Danish EU presidency, the applicants fought a tough battle. Mr Miller argued that, although the package was worth more than ¤40bn (£26bn) in subsidies, once the new countries had paid their contributions to the EU they might be net beneficiaries by no more than ¤12bn (£7.7bn) between 2004 and 2006.

There were also recriminations over the summit offer to review in December 2004 Turkey's application to join the EU, a year later than Ankara hoped. Mr Blair, who pressed France and Germany to speed plans, said the decision was "a huge step forward", after winning a late concession that entry talks would begin "without delay" if Turkey met the EU's human rights guidelines.

But hopes of a breakthrough on the reunification of Cyprus before 2004 were dashed. Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, said a resolution had been very close. "I wouldn't say it has collapsed," he said.

Aides to Rauf Denktash, the Turkish Cypriot leader, provided a glimmer of hope, saying they were prepared to sign a "letter of intent" with Greek Cypriots to discuss the unity plan.