RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 8, 13 January 1999
EU CANDIDATES BRACE FOR TOUGHER NEGOTIATIONS
by Breffni O'Rourke
The five East European countries in the lead for EU
membership are now preparing for a fresh round of
negotiations on the terms of their accession.
Chief negotiators for the five--Poland, Hungary,
Estonia, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia--have agreed among
themselves to submit their countries' negotiating positions
to the EU Executive Commission by the end of this month. At
stake will be another eight chapters of the "acquis
communautaire," the body of EU rules and regulations to which
the candidate members must conform as part of their
commitment to membership. This will be the second round of
substantive negotiations between Brussels and the candidates.
The first took place in a festive atmosphere last November,
when five chapters of the acquis considered relatively easy
The eight chapters slated for discussion will contain
some of the more complex issues, including the free movement
of goods, consumer and health protection, fisheries, and
customs union. A senior official with the EU's Expansion Task
Force, Michael Leigh, told RFE/RL that, "It is certainly true
that some of the [issues] which are on the table now, such as
the free movement of goods, are particularly complex. That
heading is not the most difficult in terms of negotiations
necessarily--that remains to be seen--but one of the most
complex, touching a wide variety of industrial fields and a
great deal of community legislation."
Leigh also noted that the topic of customs union will be
especially complex in negotiations with the Czech Republic,
because the Czechs have a customs union with Slovakia, which
they want to keep. But Slovakia, though a candidate for EU
membership, is not among the front-running applicants, making
it likely that Bratislava will join the EU at a later date
than Prague. The question thus arises of how the Czechs are
to be fully integrated into the EU's internal market while
preserving this eastward link.
The five eastern candidates, along with the sixth front-
runner, Cyprus, are now busy preparing their negotiating
positions. The chief negotiators of the six, meeting in
Budapest last month, decided that they would follow a common
timetable for submission of their position to the EU--namely,
at the end of this month. Bilateral negotiations between the
EU and the individual delegations will begin in April and May
at the level of senior officials, followed by a foreign
ministers' meeting in June.
Leigh says that the success of the second round of
negotiations depends largely on the energy and preparedness
of the candidate countries, but he cautions that things could
take time: "I am optimistic that all problems can be overcome
with the necessary work and preparation and desire to find
solutions, and I am sure that during the course of
negotiations all these problems can be overcome, but it is
hard to predict when."
There is now regular coordination among the six front-
running candidates in the accession process. The heads of the
national negotiating teams have agreed to meet regularly,
with their next talks scheduled in Cyprus in April. They see
this coordination as useful both for their own countries and
for the EU because it creates a certain harmony of approach
in the negotiating process.
A senior official in the Hungarian Foreign Ministry's
accession team, Zoltan Becsey, told RFE/RL that cooperation
among the six front-runners is amicable. At the same time, he
notes that it is mostly limited to standardizing ways of
approaching the EU: "We discuss many things, but mainly the
procedure, not the content, so we do not discuss the content
of our position papers in advance. After the presentation of
our position papers to the EU, of course, we inform the other
candidates about our views, but there is no concrete
obligation for consultation among us on the content of our
The other five East European candidate countries--
Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria--have not
yet reached the stage of substantive negotiations with the
EU. In that second group, Latvia has received particular
encouragement from the European Commission. According to that
body, if Riga keeps up its present level of progress, it
should be ready to open negotiations before the end of this
The author is an RFE/RL senior editor based in Prague.
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