20 NOVEMBER 2002

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Malta risks missing out on enlargement if...

Kurt Sansone reporting from Strasbourg

Strasbourg - Danish Prime Minister Anders Rasmussen, whose country holds the presidency of the EU, did not beat about the bush yesterday and advised the Maltese government to conclude negotiations on the pending issues before the Copenhagen summit on 12 and 13 December or else the country might not be able to make it in the next enlargement.

There is a possibility that negotiations might not be concluded with all 10 accession countries if no compromise is found on outstanding issues and Malta might be one of these countries.

"I cannot give any guarantees on who will make it but if certain problems persist there is a risk that candidate countries would not conclude negotiations," Mr Rasmussen told a packed press conference soon after the special plenary session of the European Parliament was over.

When asked specifically about the Maltese situation, just after the press conference was over, Mr Rasmssen did not mince his words: "There are a number of problems as far as Malta is concerned and it is among the countries that I warn against building huge problems for the Copenhagen summit."

During the press conference Mr Rasmussen echoed the sentiments he expressed earlier during the EU parliamentary session, which greeted MPs from the accession countries.

There was no mistaking the tone of Mr Rasmussen’s speech in Parliament.

He said: "Negotiations will be concluded with the countries which are prepared to conclude the negotiations."

The Danish Prime Minister insisted that during the Copenhagen summit no final minute negotiations on the finer details would be held, which translated into simple words means that Malta would have to wrap up its outstanding discussions on VAT and agriculture before the Copenhagen summit.

Reflecting the general feeling among national delegations of accession countries, Mr Rasmussen is anticipating hard ball negotiations on the financial package during the Copenhagen summit. That alone would be enough to drain all the energy from negotiators and thus other outstanding issues would have to be settled before.

On the financial package the Danish Prime Minister said that the situation is not a ‘take it or leave it’ scenario. "There are certain parameters that we have to stick to but there is room for manouever. The Commission and the Presidency are discussing a package, which will then be presented to the candidate countries in the very near future."

Mr Rasmussen added that the Copenhagen summit would also take concrete decisions to ensure Bulgaria and Romania made it as EU members by 2007.

The Danish Prime Minister noted that it is perfectly natural for difficulties to arise but he insisted: "the finish line is in sight."

He concluded his parliamentary speech thus: "In the final three weeks before Copenhagen all involved parties have to muster all their strength as we face the final straight together. We all stand to benefit from enlargement and we must send the right message to the peoples of Europe that the time has come to make history."

Both the plenary session and the press conference held afterwards were addressed by EU Parliament president Pat Cox and EU Commission President Romano Prodi. Both delivered speeches in which they outlined the importance of the event. But Mr Cox and Mr Prodi were overshadowed by Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen who insisted on speaking about the bread and butter issues facing the accession countries in the run up to the Copenhagen summit.


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Editor: Saviour Balzan
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