22 October 1999

EU looking to the east

BRUSSELS is looking for further and faster expansion to the east, planning negotiations with another six countries as early as next year.

Making the announcement, commission president Romano Prodi said it was essential "to inject vital new momentum into the enlargement process". This was necessary to reward those countries which have already made efforts to reform their economies and to increase European security in the aftermath of the Kosovo crisis.

The six new candidates – which all have significant agricultural sectors – are Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Malta. They join Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus, which have been in negotiation with the EU for two years.

Mr Prodi fell short of recommending any target dates for countries to join the EU. "But I fervently hope that the first accessions can take place in the (five-year) lifetime of the present commission," he said.

To pave the way for possible membership from 2003, the EU this week issued a number of recommendations for reforming its institutions – essential if it is to cope with an expanded membership of 27 countries.

Suggestions include taking more decisions on the basis of qualified majority voting, (rather than unanimity), more flexibility between countries in adopting EU rules and increased involvement of the European parliament. These reforms should be completed by the end of next year.

lDespite the words of encouragement, annual progress reports on the six countries already in negotiation suggest most have a long way to go before they will be accepted into the EU. Agricultural reform in many has been dogged by inertia, and little progress has been made. &#42