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Nine Former Communist Countries Urge NATO, EU to Open Doors to Rest of Europe - 2004-03-19


The prime ministers of nine former Communist countries are urging NATO and the European Union to open their doors to the rest of Europe, including Turkey.

A final document adopted at the meeting by government leaders from countries joining the EU and from countries aspiring for membership, said NATO and the European Union are only half-way toward creating a united Europe.

The host of the meeting, Slovak premier, Mikulas Dzurinda, expressed the sentiment of many participants when he said Europe cannot afford to stay divided.

"Slovakia, my country, will be more secure if the western Balkans is more secure. So the main conclusion of this conference is, I guess, that we are ready to help and that we are ready to cooperate [toward enlargement]," he said.

The latest violence in Kosovo, which left more than two dozen people dead and hundreds injured, was a key topic of discussions in Bratislava, as leaders debated the status of the Balkan countries.

The EU enlargement commissioner, Günter Verheugen, said bringing the Balkans into the EU will be a long process.

"Enlargement or accession is not the only instrument that we can have in our toolbox. It is very clear that after the present round of enlargement which will be completed with the accession of Romania and Bulgaria we have a number of countries that have the best prospective, such as the western Balkan countries and possibly Turkey. But for the other countries we have accession not on the agenda, I have made that very clear," he said.

He said there is the possibility that enlargement talks with Turkey will start in the spring of 2005, but only if Ankara has made sufficient progress in democratic reforms.

On the question of European defense, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer emphasized the need for close relations between NATO and the EU countries, which he said face new challenges, such as international terrorism.

U.S. Senator Trent Lott, who attended the meeting, reminded the EU that, despite the transatlantic differences over the war in Iraq, it and NATO share basic principles and must work together.

"To talk about the NATO and EU viewpoints as if they are distinct is, I think, misleading," he said. "The depth and the complexity of the transatlantic relationship and shared objectives of peace and democracy in the 21st century requires closer cooperation between NATO and the EU."

The key message the leaders of the European Union and NATO heard in Bratislava was that parts of Europe cannot enjoy stability and prosperity if other parts remain in turmoil.

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