Luxembourg Six meet in Prague

On Wednesday, the Foreign Ministers of Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Estonia, Cyprus and the Czech Republic met in Prague for the fourth time to exchange ideas on EU enlargement and accession preparations. The six countries are known as the Luxembourg Six, since they designated as frontrunner candidates for EU membership by the European Council in Luxembourg in 1997. Dita Asiedu reports:

In a joint declaration to the EU, the Luxembourg Six said that they sincerely hoped that during the Gothenburg summit in Sweden in June, the Union would confirm that these EU candidate countries will participate in Inter-Governmental conferences and European parliamentary elections as fully fledged members in 2004. They also expect that the Union's member states will give the enlargement process greater impetus by setting a timetable for each stage of accession. As far as the free movement of labour is concerned, all six countries agreed that a compromise must be found. According to Slovenia's Foreign Minister, Dimitrij Rupel, the seven-year transition period proposed by Germany and Austria was unacceptable:

"Slovenia believes that the restrictions are completely unacceptable. There are more Austrians working in Slovenia than there are Slovenes working in Austria and it is unnecessary and a surprise to us to see such a restriction imposed. On top of that, the transition period has not been founded on any statistical data, on any argumentation which would make sense. We are confronted with the European Union taking away one of the most important rules of its organisation."

The Estonian Foreign Minister, Hendrik Ilves, was also critical of the EU's approach to the free movement of labour:

"I'm not sure exactly what benefit it is to the candidate countries and I think it's an especially cynical thing to say, given that the countries that are most concerned about the free movement of labour are experiencing a labour shortage and are willing to make great exceptions for any of the people that we have trained at the tax-payer's expense in our institutes to become a computer programmer, for example."

Those in the EU sceptical of the enlargement process believe that corruption in candidate countries could severely affect the Union's administrative system. Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said the Luxembourg Six had the problem under control and pointed out that some member states of the EU itself were battling the same problem.

"It's not an issue which respects national borders or the borders of the European Union and I don't think that it will bring more administration and I think that the advantages which the enlargement will bring to the Union, far outweigh some of the minor disadvantages like administrative or bureaucratic work."

All in all, the ministers agreed that there was still a lot of work ahead but noted that the Enlargement Strategy Paper and the Road Map introduced by the European Council's summit in Nice has made accession talks more open. Hungarian Foreign Minister, Janos Martonyi, told reporters that he was positive that the Luxembourg Six would complete the talks as planned, at the end of 2002.