Thursday, December 12 2002 @ 04:09 PM MSK
COPENHAGEN - European Union leaders came under heavy pressure on Thursday to offer better terms to Turkey and Poland as they headed for a landmark summit to seal the expansion of the 15-nation bloc into eastern Europe.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the summit host, urged 10 leading candidates not to press unrealistic financial demands, and told the United States it was for EU leaders alone to decide when to start entry talks with Turkey.
Rasmussen warned the applicants not to price themselves out of the market, appealed to Turkey's new leaders for patience and pleaded for an 11th-hour deal to enable Cyprus to join united.
With key issues undecided only hours before the summit opens in Copenhagen at 7 p.m. (1 p.m. EST), Rasmussen said he had arranged for the meeting to run into extra time if necessary.
"Hopefully the meeting can be completed on Friday," he said in a welcoming letter to the 15 EU leaders. "However the Presidency is prepared to continue into the weekend if that should prove necessary in order to achieve results aimed for."
The decisions the leaders make will redraw the map of Europe. But with little money to spare, they could give the biggest expansion in the EU's 45-year history a bitter taste for some newcomers and jeopardize public support in referendums.
"The failure of the current wave of enlargement would mean the loss of an historic opportunity to create a space of peace, stability and prosperity and it would also mean the defeat of the basic ideals of integrating a democratic Europe," Czech President Vaclav Havel wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
The 10 nations set to be handed invitations in Denmark are Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Cyprus and Malta. They are expected to join in 2004. Bulgaria and Romania hope to join in 2007.
Poland has led the fight for more EU cash, especially for its farmers. But Warsaw appeared be preparing public opinion for a deal well short of its demands by describing the last Danish offer on the table as "improved new terms."
President Bush has lobbied hard for Turkey, a crucial ally in any war with Iraq, to receive a firm date to start talks on joining the EU. Bush called Rasmussen and French President Jacques Chirac on Wednesday to press Ankara"s case.
"The president expressed his hope that the EU would seize a historic moment and respond to Turkey positively and with vision," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters.
Rasmussen said he welcomed advice but the EU would not be pressured. Most member states back a Franco-German plan to open talks with traditional Muslim Turkey in mid-2005, if it passes a review of its human rights practices in 2004.
French Industry Minister Nicole Fontaine, a former president of the European Parliament, rebuked Bush for intervening.
"It is certainly not for the president of the United States to interfere in such an important matter which essentially concerns Europeans," she told Radio Monte Carlo.
Tayyip Erdogan, leader of Turkey"s new ruling AKP party, vowed in an interview in Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung to fight until the last second in Copenhagen for a date in 2003. Underscoring the strength of Turkish passions, the country's best-selling Hurriyet newspaper splashed Leonardo da Vinci"s painting "The Last Supper" across its front page on Thursday.
"This evening EU leaders meet for a dinner and make this decision: will the EU, like Christ's last supper, be purely for Christians or will there be a Muslim at the table?"
CYPRUS HOPES RECEDING
Erdogan met Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis on Thursday to seek backing for an earlier EU date and discuss a political settlement on Cyprus. The EU would prefer a united island to join the bloc, but is prepared to admit the Greek Cypriot part if there is no accord with the Turkish Cypriots.
Though prospects for a deal this week look slim, the U.S. and U.N. envoys on Cyprus sounded an upbeat note in Copenhagen, where the two sides will negotiate on a revised U.N. peace plan.
"We are closer than we have ever been to a Cyprus settlement. It is still possible to get a result in Copenhagen," U.S. envoy Tom Weston told a news briefing.
The United Nations" point man on Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto, met Greek Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and was to talk later with Tahsin Ertugruloglu, "foreign minister" of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which only Ankara recognizes.
"I hope to shuttle. I hope to persuade them until the last moment, whenever that is. I hope they will sign what the (U.N.) Secretary-General has asked them. That is the goal," he said.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the north of the island in response to a Greek Cypriot coup backed by the military junta then ruling Greece.
While geopolitics were at play in the decisions on Turkey and Cyprus, money was at the root of last-ditch negotiations on admitting the east Europeans, all of them once communist states.
The candidates want the EU to grant them the full 42.5 billion euros ($43 billion) originally budgeted for expansion.
A "final" Danish offer falls two billion euros short of that, but the EU's main net contributors, notably Germany, say they can no longer afford more because of an economic slowdown.
Czech farmers angry over the level of subsidies the EU has offered them after accession blocked key border points with wealthy EU members Germany and Austria on Thursday.
"Is liquidation of Czech agriculture a ticket to EU?" read one banner held up at a border crossing on the road to Vienna.
The Copenhagen summit site was under tight security to head off plans by up to 30,000 protesters to disrupt the meeting.