Vol 1, No 17
18 October 1999
T H E A M B E R C O A S T:
A Symbolic Meeting of "5+1"
Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves brought together the so-called "5+1" group of front-running EU aspirant countries in Tallinn on 11 October. The highly symbolic meeting came just two days before the European Commission's annual reports on all candidate countries. The meeting came safely before the Helsinki summit of the European Council, giving this group a united voice going into that crucial meeting.
This was the very first gathering of the foreign ministers - Boris Frlec (Slovenia), Bronislaw Geremek (Poland), Toomas Hendrik Ilves (Estonia), Jan Kavan (Czech Republic), and Janos Martonyi (Hungary) - as well as the chief negotiator for Cyprus, former President George Vassiliou. They have never met in this fashion in the past and, in fact, the "5+1" group did not co-operate much except for periodic consultations among the negotiators. Why now, and what is their new, united message?
"Contradictory" and "Complementary"
Even before the announcements by the European Commission on Wednesday, the "5+1" group in Tallinn re-stated their support for the other 6 candidate countries to begin accession negotiations: Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania and Slovakia. At the same time, the "5+1" group cemented their own position by calling on the EU to speed up negotiations with the group. Though some members of the press questioned the policy, calling it "contradictory," Hungarian Foreign Minister Martonyi replied cleverly, calling it "complementary."
However, despite their vehement calls for accession negotiations to open to all candidate countries, the fact they met symbolically just before the EC progress reports were issued indicates a solidarity not seen before among the six front-runners. In some ways, it was a stern statement to Brussels and Helsinki that the six expect to remain "front-runners" whether or not there is an enlarging of the field of negotiating candidate countries. In other words, they called on the European Union to create a "division two" in the EU candidacy league table, but one in which, as one minister put it, there would be no demotions or promotions. The six front-runners clearly have no intention on giving up their coveted collective status and will meet again in the spring in Ljubljana to pursue their common aim.
Message to Commission: "Speed up"
Dr Frlec of Slovenia made a light-hearted anecdote about
The six put forth strongly their desire to see negotiations concluded in 2000, "but by 2001 at the latest," adding that enlargement of the EU should not be held hostage by the Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC) for internal EU reform. Again adhering to the magical date of 1 January 2003, the six representatives stressed that their countries would be ready.
And the others?
Just before the Commission issued its reports, Latvian and Lithuanian diplomats were working overtime and pushing shuttle diplomacy as far as their resources would stretch. New European Commissioner for Enlargement Gunter Verheugen must have been tired of the faces of the two foreign ministers - Algirdas Saudargas of Lithuania and Indulis Berzins of Latvia - as they appeared at his office frequently over the past few weeks. There was a feeling in the two countries that every little bit helped. Lithuania conveniently released its poorer-than-expected Q2 GDP figures (which showed a drop of four per cent instead of the expected three per cent) a day before the EC report. The release of the figures was delayed by about two weeks from the normal issue date, which was blamed on a "delay" in data. This is the strength of the feeling of desperation that was felt in the halls of government in Vilnius and Riga.
However on 13 October, Latvia and Lithuania, along with the other four countries, were duly rewarded for their tenacity in the form of the EC's recommendations that negotiations be opened with them. This was exactly what they wanted, and rhetoric flew quickly from the direction
Good news for the Baltics
Generally, the 13 October annual reports were good for the Baltics. Latvia and Lithuania were given the nod to start negotiations, and Estonia faced few reproaches from the Commission. Though the Commission criticised various areas, ranging from tough language regulations to poor administrative efficiency, most believe it was very positive. Though criticism for members of the
Despite the opening of talks with all candidate countries, the "5+1" will likely retain their special status as "front-runners" at the Helsinki summit - though perhaps not formally. Once negotiations begin for the other six, there is little indication they can catch up in the areas already disposed of by the "5+1" group during their two years of negotiations, however slow that may have been at times. Helsinki will be watched closely by the other six countries - for confirmation of their joining the negotiations - and by the "5+1" group, for confirmation that their "front-runner" status remains in tact.
Mel Huang, 14 October 1999
See the individual country details of the EC Report in this week's issue.
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