Hurdles for EU hopefuls raised

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The Independent Online
NEGOTIATIONS with the four countries that want to join the European Union - Norway, Sweden, Finland and Austria - are slipping behind, according to officials and diplomats in Brussels, writes Andrew Marshall.

They blame some members for retarding progress, and warn that any further slippage could jeopardise the timetable for bringing in new members and cause political crises in the applicant countries and Brussels. Britain wants the forthcoming EU summit to underline commitment to finalising the negotiations by the spring.

The crunch may come over a subject that has long bedevilled the EU: farming. This week the Commission unveiled its proposals for dealing with agriculture. The applicants would be allowed to continue assisting their farmers, but border controls would have to go. This differed from the previous approach because the single market had been completed, officials said.

But Norway and Finland in particular are sensitive about the survival of farming in Arctic conditions. 'It is absolutely clear that we must get better conditions than those in this paper,' said the Finnish Foreign Trade Minister, Pertti Salolainen. Officials in Brussels are relatively optimistic that this difficulty can be overcome, but some EU members are likely to object.

If the proposals are rejected, the delay could destroy the applicants' hopes of entry by January 1995, officials say. And bigger problems lurk over other issues, such as standards in the single market. EU members from the Mediterranean, in particular Spain, are being obstructive, they say.

The Commission is also proposing to give several peripheral regions of each applicant country the same access to aid as Europe's poorest areas, such as Greece and Merseyside. All four applicants, however, are substantially wealthier than the EU average, and are likely to be net contributors to the EU budget; yet some want British-style rebates.

Fishing presents a big problem for Norway: it wants to protect its own resources at the same time as gaining full access to the European market.

Then there is wet snuff. In Sweden people chew it, but the EU would like to ban it on health (not aesthetic) grounds. The issue arouses high passions in Sweden, but little progress is being made towards solving it. The Swedish government's alcohol monopoly is also difficult, Swedish diplomats say.

And even if deals are struck in Brussels, can they be sold to sometimes sceptical electorates back home? In particular, public opinion in Norway is still solidly against. Asked whether his country would join, one Norwegian diplomat replied: 'It can't be ruled out.'

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