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EU Accession treaties signed in solemn ceremony

Accession treaties signed in solemn ceremony

On April 16 the heads of state and government of the fifteen member countries and those of the ten candidate countries sealed the biggest enlargement ever seen in the history of the EU with the signing of accession treaties in a solemn ceremony held at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, the historical cradle of democracy.

In a statement made in the context of the signing ceremony Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said: "I am the head of government of a country that started the Second World War and, as such, was responsible for creating the underlying causes of the division of Europe. But it is also a country that suffered enormously as a consequence of the war, since it too was divided. Perhaps people can understand that after having overcome the division of Germany we Germans are very, very happy that now the division of Europe has been definitively overcome."

This historical event is based on the definitive decision on enlargement taken at a summit in Copenhagen in December 2002. After more than ten years of accession negotiations 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. 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 provided they have ratified their accession treaties by 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 further candidate countries, i.e. Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, were also involved in the ceremonies. The Greek Presidency hosted a conference on Europe on Thursday, April 17, that was attended by the heads of state and government of the twenty-five member and acceding countries, those of the remaining three candidate countries, as well as by the heads of state and government of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia-Montenegro, Norway, and Iceland. Their discussions were focused on the new regional situation and the friendly and beneficial relations they want to develop with their neighbors when the European Union has new borders.

Fischer after the consultations in the European Convention: "There were twenty-five of us sitting there..."

Before the signing ceremony the EU heads of state and government met with the President of the European Convention, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing.

The European Convention was created so that the enlargement of the EU can be followed by a deeper level of cooperation among twenty-five members. Its purpose is to formulate proposals on the decision-making responsibilities EU institutions are to have in an enlarged Union as well as to draft a European constitution.

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who represented the German government in the Convention, referred to the meeting as "historical", given that it was also attended by the acceding countries. Fischer: "There were twenty-five of us sitting there.."

Fischer was optimistic about the success of a European constitution. In reference to the proposals being formulated on the responsibilities of European institutions he remarked that "the differences that still exist can all be bridged". He said a draft treaty that everyone will be able to agree to will be completed before the Thessalonica European Council in June, adding that a good compromise is being worked on that will turn an enlarged Union into a Union that is capable of action.

Early this year Germany and France submitted a joint proposal aimed at achieving an even distribution of power between the European Council, the European Commission, and the European Parliament. The European Council is to have longer-term presidencies such as is the case with the European Commission. At present the Council presidency is held by all the member countries on a rotational basis for terms of six months each. Germany and France also proposed creating the office of a European foreign minister.

The smaller EU countries take a skeptical view of this proposal. They want the European Commission to continue to be the sole executive government institution in the EU.

EU and UN roles in post-war Iraq

The Athens summit issued a statement on Iraq urging a central role for the United Nations in the reconstruction of Iraq: "The UN must play a central role including in the process leading towards self-government for the Iraqi people, utilizing its unique capacity and experience in post-conflict nation building."

The statement reaffirmed that the EU is committed to playing a significant role in the political and economic reconstruction of the country. It also noted that at this stage "the coalition has the responsibility to ensure a secure environment, including for the provision of humanitarian assistance, in particular urgent medical relief, and the protection of the cultural heritage and museums."

The statement on Iraq was signed by the fifteen EU member countries, the ten acceding countries, as well as by Turkey and Russia.

Kofi Annan had bilateral meetings with a number of EU heads of state and government, including Chancellor Schröder, to discuss the role to be played by the United Nations in post-war Iraq. Schröder and Annan both expressed satisfaction with the results of their meeting. Schröder said there had been "a large measure of agreement" and that there had been three main talking points with regard to Iraq.

He noted that there is a need first of all to get humanitarian assistance to the people as quickly as possible and that this should be done on the basis of UN resolutions. He said Germany had pledged financial assistance and that it could also be of assistance in providing medical care, adding that it would be possible, for instance, to fly severely injured children to Germany for treatment.

Secondly, there is a need to restore law and order in Iraq. For a transitional period this will be the job of the coalition forces, Schröder said.

The third point concerned the post-war order in Iraq, i.e. the process of rebuilding the country both physically and in terms of the hearts and minds of the people. It is felt that this process should take place under UN leadership. What this will mean in specific terms for the individual players will have to be clarified in negotiations between the governments of the coalition countries and the United Nations. Schröder said it was self-evident that the United Nations should play a central role in the post-war situation.

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.

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