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EU Ministers Discuss Expansion at Elsinore Castle - 2002-08-30

European Union expansion is at the top of the agenda for a two-day meeting of EU foreign ministers in Denmark. But the expansion talks are being overshadowed by other, more pressing issues.

Denmark has made no secret of its desire to issue invitations to as many as 10 new members during its turn in the rotating European Union presidency. So, Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller says he is trying to keep attention focused on what could be the EU's biggest ever expansion.

But it will not be easy. As the ministers gathered Friday outside Copenhagen at the Elsinore Castle immortalized in Shakespeare's Hamlet, the talk was mostly about a new Middle East peace initiative, about Iraq, and about Washington's request to exempt the U.S. from the International Criminal Court.

Mr. Moeller has downplayed expectations, noting that these are informal sessions where ministers can speak frankly, out of earshot of the bureaucrats who handle day-to-day affairs. The host has made clear that no decisions will be made here.

Still, there are several tough issues that must be addressed before EU expansion can move forward, among them the question of who will pay. That is an especially hot topic in Germany, which is in the midst of an election campaign. Diplomats say no real progress is possible until after a new German government is elected next month.

The Danish foreign minister does, however, hope to win tentative approval from his EU counterparts to push ahead with a European Middle East peace initiative. The proposal, which is broadly in line with Bush administration thinking, was drawn up in consultation with France, Britain and Germany.

Mr. Moeller is planning to travel to Middle East capitals next week to brief regional leaders on the proposal.