Brussels Gives Green Light For Historic EU Enlargement

By Agence France-Presse The European Commission gave its green light Wednesday for 10 countries to join the EU in 2004, in a historic enlargement that aims to re-unify Europe after the collapse of the Iron Curtain. Thirteen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the EU's executive arm gave the nod to a reshaping of the 15-member bloc that will take it up to the borders of Russia. Barring last-minute hitches -- including an Irish referendum later this month which in theory could derail the whole project -- the new members will join in time for European parliament elections scheduled for June 2004. The Commission, in detailed assessment reports on the candidate countries, recommended the entry of Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. But the report failed to give Turkey, a close US ally and NATO member, a date to start negotiations for entry while two poorer Balkan countries, Romania and Bulgaria, were cited as possible entrants in 2007. The Commission's proposals will form the basis for a political decision on EU enlargement expected by the end of the year. Turkey reacted bitterly and warned EU leaders they must set a date for membership negotations at the December summit or else face a chill in relations. EU leaders will meet in Brussels Oct. 24 to Oct. 25 to discuss the recommendations, setting the stage for a Dec. 12 to Dec. 13 summit in Copenhagen at which formal invitations will be extended. But obstacles still remain even on the final straight of the EU candidate states' long and winding path towards joining the bloc. These include notably the Irish referendum on Oct. 19 on the 2000 Nice Treaty, which is crucial for EU enlargement to go ahead in 2004. Ireland sent shock waves through Europe in June last year when, in a first referendum, the treaty was rejected by 54% of voters.

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