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Candidate Countries Question EU Farm Subsidies

The prime ministers of 10 countries poised to join the European Union in 2004 said Friday they do not want to pay full membership fees as long as their nations will not receive the same benefits current members have. The leaders are pressuring the Union to change its policy, especially in the area of agriculture subsidies.

Leaders of eight former Communist countries, as well as Malta and Cyprus, gathered in Warsaw Friday amid concern that their long awaited joining the European Union will not be a happy one.

The Prime Ministers of especially Poland and Hungary have expressed concern about the EU's plan to award new members initially only a quarter of the farm subsidies.

The EU plans to increase the benefit gradually to new members over a 10 year period.

Speaking ahead of the summit, Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy told VOA news that the newcomers do not accept this unequal treatment. "First of all it is not just Hungary that opposes the 10 year period. But all of the10 countries awaiting accession are against it," he said. "They think it is too long."

Prime Minister Medgyessy and leaders of other candidate countries seem concerned that the cost of EU membership will outweigh the benefits, if no compromise is reached regarding subsidies.

Hungary and other countries have proposed to end the transition period in 2006, when the current EU budget period ends.

Mr. Medgyessy warned that a failure to come to an agreement could endanger the whole enlargement process that is scheduled for 2004. "There is one thing that we should never forget. If this enlargement of extreme proportions is successful, than that's a joint success. But if it's a failure, than that's a joint failure of the European Union and of the candidate countries. So that means that our fate is bound together, so we will find a common solution."

On Friday, Hungary and the other candidate countries issued a statement in Warsaw that urges the Union not to expect full membership fees from new members if they do not get the same subsidies as current EU countries.

Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller said the leaders proposed to introduce a system of phasing in contributions, or another similar mechanism to justify the only-gradually-increasing farm subsidies.

Poland is the largest of the future members, which also include the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta.