22 June 2001

Next EUbatch set for 2004

HEADS of state have set a target date of 2004 for the first wave of countries from central and eastern Europe to join the EU.

Despite resistance from big hitters such as France and Germany, both of whom have elections next year, the 15 leaders meeting in the Swedish city of Gothenburg last weekend decided to clarify the timetable.

"The enlargement process is irreversible," they said. "Provided that progress towards meeting the accession criteria continues (in the candidate countries) at an unabated pace, it should be possible to complete negotiations by the end of 2002."

If that is achieved, then the new members should be able to join in time for the June 2004 European Parliament elections.

There are still plenty of hurdles to be cleared by then, and it is far from clear which of the six front runners – Hungary, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Poland and Slovenia – will be included.

Detailed negotiations on agriculture, and in particular the questions of land ownership and subsidies, have yet to begin. And some countries are behind schedule in making their administrations EU-compatible.

Enlargement is viewed with mixed emotions by farmers in the current EU of 15. Many fear the impact of cheap imports from areas with far lower labour costs. &#42