Santer divides and rules in new-look EU

Entry of three ex-Soviet bloc nations risks alienating others

The European Union yesterday launched what will probably become the most ambitious and traumatic transformation in its history, when proposals were published to expand to 21 members early in the new millennium.

Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus were told by the European Commission that they had sufficiently proved their democratic and economic credentials to start negotiations on membership early next year.

A further five countries, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Romania learnt that they had failed to qualify for the first wave of expansion, but were assured that they, too, could join once they have made the grade.

The expansion programme will produce a "stable Europe that is open to the world," the Commission promised, in a detailed exposition of the expansion programme called "Agenda 2000". The working assumption is that negotiations with the first applicants could be completed by 2002 or 2003, said Jacques Santer, the European Commission President.

Accession talks with the new members are to be accompanied by far-reaching reform of EU agricultural policies and aid funding, and the entire programme is to be financed by a "veritable Marshall plan", amounting to 75 billion ecus, (pounds 52.5bn) pledged Mr Santer.

Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, said the programme "opens a new chapter in the history of the European Union" and he welcomed the fact that Europe was "moving away from introspection" to "enhance prosperity and security throughout Europe". However, even as the proposals were being distributed early signs emerged of the fierce political battles that lie ahead, as the expansion gets under way.

After presenting his plan to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Mr Santer was accused, by Parliament members, of risking "dangerous political division" among would-be members by inviting some former Soviet bloc countries into the club before others.

Some applicants have suggested the exam process has been a lottery. Slovakia, for example, where GDP is relatively high for Eastern Europe - at 41 per cent of the EU average - but which failed the tests because of "shortcomings in the functioning of its democracy", condemned the Commission ruling yesterday as "unjust".

Estonia, meanwhile, which has a GDP per head of about 23 per cent of the EU average, but, which, says the Commission, "presents the characteristics of democracy", easily qualified for early entry.

Mr Santer rejected allegations of bias and assured all member states that the first-wave countries were "part of a process to be engaged with all applicant countries". Annual reviews are to be instituted with each applicant to ensure they all remain on track for membership, says the Commission.

Reaction to the Commission's proposals is likely to be just as fractious among existing member states, already doubtful about the benefits and cost of enlargement. A final decision on who joins when is to be taken by heads of government at the Luxembourg summit in December.

Mr Santer reiterated yesterday that last month's Amsterdam summit, intended to re-vamp EU institutions ready for expansion, had failed, and announced that a new Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC) would be needed around 2000 to complete the job.

However, launching a new IGC could mean launching months of new introspective debate, of precisely the kind which Mr Cook had hoped was over, raising questions about the entire enlargement timetable.

Without re-vamping the EU's present structure, however, the union could simply implode. The complexities of enlargement raise staggering possibilities for day-to-day management in Brussels and Strasbourg.

For translators, for example, the accession of all 11 candidates would bring 11 new languages into the EU (Cyprus would introduce Turkish) presenting about 244 possible language combinations.

Even without an early new IGC, political infighting among member states could still alter the list of first-comers, and the timetable for accession.

Several governments have already indicated that they would have preferred a smaller "first wave" of just Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, to limit the shock to EU institutions and budget. There has also been a preference among many member states for starting the negotiations with all applicants and allowing the slow-paced to drop behind.

However, this so-called "regatta" approach could also have been viewed as an excuse for further prevarication, and the Commission bravely chose yesterday to name the names of qualifying countries - decisions widely seen to have been soundly and fairly based. Given the recent Nato decision to accept just three new members, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, the EU's approach of five plus one (a phrase which distinguishes Cyprus from the east Europeans) may yet be seen to make geo-strategic sense.

Of fundamental interest to member states in the ensuing debate will be the inevitable cuts in their own EU aid funding, as money is shifted towards helping the new members.

The phasing out of priority aid status for many EU regions, where GDP has now achieved 75 per cent of the EU average - the cut off for special funds - will reduce money flowing to millions of existing EU citizens.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor