Foreign ministers of ten EU candidate countries showed unity in Prague

Foreign ministers of ten EU candidate countries, photo: CTK

The ten countries in the forefront to join the European Union in the next round of enlargement put on a show of unity at a meeting in Prague on Tuesday. While the fifteen current EU members remain divided over how a bigger Europe will work, foreign ministers from the ten applicant countries said they were keen to proceed hand in hand in the final phase of their accession talks. Alena Skodova has more:

Foreign ministers of ten EU candidate countries,  photo: CTK
"This is a strong group and we are speaking with one voice". This was how the Slovenian Foreign Minister, Dimitri Rupel, characterized the mood of the meeting. And the ten countries have reason to be upbeat. The European Commission expects to conclude accession talks by the end of this year. The Accession Treaties should be signed in spring 2003, potentially giving the green light for all ten candidates to enter the Union at the beginning of 2004. At their meeting in Prague, the ten ministers welcomed the generally positive evaluation of their countries in the European Union's regular 'progress reports', published earlier this month, and they breathed a collective sigh of relief at the outcome of last weekend's Irish referendum."

But they also pointed to several outstanding issues, which have not been fully resolved yet: they made it clear that as a group "speaking with one voice" they wanted to fight for substantially better financial and budgetary positions than they are now being offered, and on the delicate issue of agriculture, they also showed unity in their desire to fight for the same privileges enjoyed by farmers in Western Europe.

Delegates also took the opportunity to remind their colleagues in the EU that by joining they will be taking on significant new commitments. For example, the Slovenian Foreign Minister pointed to new security responsibilities, hinting that the current members should be offering extra financial support.

"We will be defending the external borders of the European Union once we become members. And this is something that perhaps some people in Europe are not appreciating enough. This will mean extremely high costs for many of our countries, and we have also discussed this aspect."

Tuesday's meeting in Prague confirmed the will of EU candidates to work together as a lobby for their common interests. Their commitment to the EU will be reassuring to the current 15 members, but their willingness to push for their interests could also make for some tough talks ahead.