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Treaties seal EU enlargement in Athens


Historical enlargement in Athens, the cradle of democracy

Treaties seal EU enlargement

On April 16 the fifteen EU heads of state and government and those of the ten candidate countries will seal the biggest enlargement in the history of the European Union with the signing of the accession treaties. The site of the signing ceremony is of historical importance, i.e. at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, the cradle of democracy.

The ten acceding countries are Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Cyprus. They will be able to accede to the EU on May 1, 2004. The acceding countries need to ratify their accession treaties before then. Malta, Slovenia, and Hungary have already done so with referendums. The treaties also have to be approved by the parliaments of the current EU countries.

The three candidate countries that have not yet been admitted to the EU, i.e. Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, will also be involved in the ceremonies. The Greek Presidency has scheduled a conference on Europe for Thursday, April 17, that will be attended by the twenty-five and the three as well as by the heads of state and government of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia-Montenegro, Norway, and Iceland.

In December 2002, after years of often difficult negotiations, the EU took a definitive decision on enlargement at a summit held in Copenhagen. The EU member states and the candidate countries agreed on a financial package for the first few years of enlargement, successfully concluding a key area of negotiation.

European Convention

Prior to signing the treaties on April 16 the fifteen EU heads of state and government will meet in Athens with the President of the European Convention, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. The Convention is to present the draft of a European constitution by the end of July. The current status of deliberations in the Convention will be discussed. There is a particular need to discuss what decision-making authority EU institutions should have in an enlarged Union with 25 members.

EU role in post-war Ira

qOn April 14 the EU foreign ministers met in Luxembourg to make preparations for the European Council in Athens. In a comment made on the sidelines of that meeting Foreign Minister Fischer stated that the United Nations needs to assume a "strong role" in post-war Iraq but noted that it was still too early to be taking any decisions in this regard. He added that humanitarian assistance currently has top priority.

The war in Iraq was a focus of discussions at the spring summit held in Brussels in March. There the heads of state and government issued a joint statement on Iraq in which they underscored the need to prevent a humanitarian disaster. They said the UN must continue to play a central role in coordinating assistance in the post-conflict situation, adding that the Security Council should give a strong mandate for this mission..

In Athens the EU countries will also talk about the role Europe will play in post-war Iraq. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to take part in the discussions.

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