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IN THE NEWS - European Union Expansion - 2002-12-20

BROADCAST: December 21, 2002

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, IN THE NEWS.

The European Union has officially asked ten countries to join the organization in Two-Thousand-Four. The leaders of the fifteen current E-U member countries approved the invitations at a meeting in Copenhagen last week. Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen led the meeting. He called the decision, a victory for liberty and democracy. He also said that, a new Europe is born.

Eight of the invited countries are in Eastern Europe. Until nineteen-ninety-one, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania were part of the Soviet Union. Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Slovenia all had Communist governments. The E-U also offered membership to Malta and the Greek-ruled part of Cyprus.

The planned expansion would be the largest in the E-U’s history. It would create a community of more than four-hundred-fifty million people in twenty-five countries. The expansion also would create an economy of more than nine-million-million dollars. Such an economy would be close to that of the United States.

Intense negotiations took place at the Copenhagen meeting about the financial terms under which new members will join. Candidates for E-U membership had demanded more aid. Most of them are poorer than the average country in Western Europe. They also have shorter histories as democracies and had problems with dishonest governments. Many people in the invited countries did not fully support efforts to join the E-U.

Poland is the largest of the ten candidate countries. It had threatened to sabotage the expansion plans if it did not receive more aid. The agreement calls for the E-U to provide more than forty-thousand-million dollars in aid to the new members.

The expansion is planned for May, Two-Thousand-Four. But first, citizens in each candidate country must approve E-U membership in a series of votes expected next year.

E-U members had hoped that a United Nations-negotiated agreement to end the division of Cyprus would be signed during the Copenhagen meeting. Cyprus has been divided between Greek and Turkish Cypriots since nineteen-seventy-four.

The E-U offered membership to the southern, Greek side of Cyprus. The Turkish north could enter later if it agrees on terms to end the island’s division. Now, only the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government will receive E-U membership.

In another development, Turkey accepted an E-U decision to delay considering its membership until December, Two-Thousand-Four, at the earliest. E-U leaders said Turkey must make the political and human rights reforms necessary to begin talks about membership.

The United States supports Turkey’s efforts to join the E-U. The Bush administration has been attempting to win Turkish support for possible military action against Iraq.

This VOA Special English program, IN THE NEWS, was written by Cynthia Kirk.