The European Union is holding eleventh-hour talks with 10 countries seeking to join the organization. It is trying to hammer out the financial terms for their accession before an EU summit in Copenhagen later this week. Two of the candidate countries, Poland and Malta, seem determined to go on bargaining until the very last minute.
Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller, the chief EU negotiator in what promises to be the bloc's largest expansion ever, told reporters Monday that his talks with the candidates were characterized by down to the wire haggling on their part.
"Today's negotiations have been tough," he said. "We are in a final, difficult phase before the summit. And, of course, I understand the sensitivity of candidate countries and their desire to win further concessions. But that will be difficult."
The EU has offered the 10 candidates $40 billion in aid, mainly to farmers, over the first three years of their membership. That is proportionally less than what current EU members receive. So, most of the candidates are holding out for more money despite warnings from the EU that it cannot afford to give them more.
Still, Poland and Malta, the biggest of the candidates and the smallest, are determined to get a better deal and appear to be ready to maintain their hardline stance until just before the Copenhagen summit is scheduled to wrap up on Friday.
Mr. Moeller issued a veiled warning to Poland, saying that, if it continues to be inflexible, it might just miss out on becoming a member.
"We want Poland in the community, but if Poland does not want to be part of the union, I just have to accept that," the the chief E.U. negotiator said.
Poland is demanding more farm aid and higher farm production quotas as well as more money for its poorer regions. The Polish government fears that, if it does not strike a hard bargaining stance, Poles may become disillusioned and vote against EU membership in a referendum next year.
Only Cyprus and Slovakia have so far accepted the EU's aid package. The other six candidates are still arguing over the details of their entry terms.
Mr. Moeller says EU leaders will have to deal with the thorniest issues in Copenhagen. But he says that, in the end, he expects the eight holdouts to come around and be invited to join the Union at the summit.