Applicants cut demands in bid to speed accession talks

Author (Person)
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Series Details Vol.7, No.9, 1.3.01, p8
Publication Date 01/03/2001
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Date: 01/03/01

By Simon Taylor

LEADING applicant countries are watering down their demands for extra time before they must comply with EU law in a bid to speed up the pace of talks on joining the Union.

The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland have reduced the number of areas of Union legislation in which they are asking for transition periods, as well as the length of time before they have to meet the Union's rules.

Prague's ambassador to the EU, Libor Secka, told European Voice that the change in stance was partly designed to inject new impetus into entry talks.

"There has been a natural evolution in some chapters since we started negotiations in March 1998 but we also see the necessity to take steps to accelerate the negotiations," he said.

All three countries have sought lengthy transition periods in a number of areas, citing the exorbitant cost of bringing their national laws into line with Union rules. Meeting some EU laws such as environmental standards requires massive capital investment.

Applicant states are eager to join the Union on their stated target date of 1 January 2003. The EU wants them to become members in time to take part in the next European Parliament elections in June 2004.

The leading candidates want to remove as many obstacles to completing the negotiations as possible amid fears that the talks will grind to a halt when the most difficult chapters - farm support, regional policy and budget contributions - are tackled next year.

The Czech ambassador says Prague has dropped its request for transition periods in areas ranging from the environment to taxation and has agreed to fully liberalise its energy and gas sectors by 2005 in line with existing EU members' target dates.

Secka says the main factor in Prague's change of heart was that legislation had evolved both in the Czech Republic and the EU over the last three years. "We have been negotiating since March 1998. It's obvious that things have moved on since then," he said.

The changes were made after an assessment of the Czech Republic's negotiating position, Secka says. But he points out that in some areas Prague had toughened its stance - for example by demanding a ten-year ban on allowing foreigners to buy farm and forestry land after accession.

The ambassador says he hopes his government's new stance on the negotiations will help it to make progress in formal talks scheduled for 29-30 March. "We expect to close free movement of services and company law," Secka said, pointing out that that would mean that Prague has completed almost half of all its chapters.

A similarly pragmatic stance is finding favour in Hungary and Poland.

Diplomats say Budapest is reconsidering its requests for transition periods in environment, company law and the free movement of goods. A Polish government spokesman said Warsaw has revised its position in a number of areas including health and safety and rules on the safe handling of petrol and diesel fuel. But the spokesman denied that there had been a formal change in strategy towards the negotiations.

A spokesman for Enlargement Commissioner G√ľnter Verheugen welcomed the latest moves, saying: "The less requests for transition periods there are, the less we have to negotiate."

Leading applicant countries are watering down their demands for extra time before they must comply with EU law in a bid to speed up the pace of talks on joining the Union.

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