The European Union has warned candidate member countries they might have to compromise on financial terms to gain entry as scheduled in 2004. Ten Mediterranean and eastern European nations are hoping to be part of EU expansion. But the EU is signaling it could make some concessions on funding after complaints by lawmakers of candidate countries.
The complaints came as lawmakers from candidate countries took part in a session of the European Parliament for the first time. The debate took place a day after the EU set May 1, 2004 as the date for 10 candidates, ranging from Estonia to Malta, to join.
Though European Commission President Romano Prodi hailed the session as the opening of a new chapter for Europe, lawmakers from eastern Europe criticized what they called financially unfair entry terms. They are mainly concerned that farmers in their countries will only get 25 percent of the aid farmers in existing EU states receive during their first year of membership. The amount is to be gradually increased over a decade.
The remaining obstacles to enlargement taking place on schedule are all about money. The EU wants to wrap up negotiations on farm aid and other handouts that the candidate countries will receive by the time it holds a summit in Copenhagen in mid-December.
Sensing the danger that voters in some candidate countries may not approve EU membership if they do not get a better financial deal, EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen told reporters he is willing to be a bit more flexible.
"There is flexibility where we have to deal with cash flow problems, budgetary problems, production quotas, reference periods and other elements where candidate countries request additional support," he said.
An EU diplomat said the bloc might increase the entry level direct payments to 30 or even 35 percent. But Mr. Verheugen said the candidate countries must not make irresponsible demands given the EU's budget constraints.
That message was reiterated by Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who wants to crown his country's presidency of the EU next month with an agreement on the accession of the 10 candidate states.
"Each of the candidate countries should do its utmost to resolve the outstanding problems in due time, before the Copenhagen summit. Otherwise, there is a real risk that we are not able to conclude negotiations with that country," Mr. Rasmussen said.
He said he is determined that no candidate country that is ready, should have to wait before it can join the EU because of those who have not finalized entry negotiations. He notes that there are only 23 days before the Copenhagen summit begins and says all agricultural and budgetary negotiations must be wrapped up by then.