Guenter Verheugen: Enlargement will help to create long lasting stability

From a speech by the EU Commissioner to a conference entitled 'Towards a wider Europe: the new agenda'

Enlargement has been the most important contribution of the EU to long lasting stability in Europe in recent years. While we expect the imminent accession of the democracies of central and eastern Europe to overcome the division of the continent, we are doing everything to avoid drawing new dividing lines. On the eve of the EU and Nato enlargements, it is worth taking stock of recent developments in the union's Neighbourhood Policy, the main thrust of which is to transform into opportunities all challenges stemming from enlargement along the union's borders to the south and east up to 2007.

But let me make it clear once more that our Neighbourhood Policy is distinct from enlargement. It neither prepares for enlargement, nor rules it out. For now, the accession of these countries is not on our agenda.

Romano Prodi, the European Commission President, describes the policy's aim as seeking to create a "ring of friends". Russia remains our most important neighbour in Europe. In our co-operation with Russia we do not need new action plans but real action on the implementation of our agreed strategy. In the case of Belarus, it is clear that current political conditions make it difficult to engage with its government. We are exploring options to step up relations with Belarus, for example through civil society.

Ukraine and Moldova are central and crucial to the union's Neighbourhood Policy. In my political contacts with both countries I am pleased to note that they are keen to work with us on this.

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