EU growth 'must not be stopped'

Heads of state from central and south-east Europe insisted on Friday that European Union enlargement continue and include Turkey as well as the Balkan states that emerged from the bloody wars of the 1990s.

Despite the 25-nation bloc’s difficulty in agreeing on a common Constitution, the EU must carry on to include Bulgaria and Romania by 2007, and eventually Croatia and Turkey, according to the 15 leaders attending a summit in Zagreb to discuss European integration and expansion.

“The integration process ... has no alternative, and it must not be stopped or thrown in doubt,” Croatian President Stipe Mesic said in an opening speech. Last year, the EU added 10 new members, mostly former communist countries in Eastern Europe.

“The border of Europe is not set by this river or that ...
but rather by the final outreach of European values, tradition and culture,” Mesic said. “Europe ... is inconceivable without Russia and—let us be frank—hardly to be imagined without Turkey.”

Nevertheless, politicians in several European countries have expressed reservations about admitting the largely poor, majority-Muslim country with a rapidly growing population of 70-million. Turkey opened accession talks with the bloc on October 3, but only after last-minute crisis talks over objections from Austria.

At the Zagreb summit, which ends on Saturday, seven countries represented are EU members, while the others are either negotiating entry or angling for better ties with the bloc.

Mesic said the diversity of states attending presents a “unique opportunity” to consider “models for completing European integration processes”.

Croatia opened membership talks with the EU on October 4 in hopes of joining by 2009. Macedonia, Serbia-Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina have been struggling toward forming closer ties with the bloc.

Poland’s President Aleksander Kwasniewski—whose country joined the EU last year—said that while the EU’s moves to include Bulgaria, Romania and eventually Croatia and Turkey are “very meaningful”, the EU needs to “show solidarity and openness” toward the ex-Yugoslav nations “painfully affected in the aftermath of recent warfare and ethnic divisions”.

Kwasniewski also said European integration would be incomplete without Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said Europe could have no joint future until “it has encompassed all ... particularly eastern states” in the Balkans that have endured the “tragic drama” of war in the 1990s.

The summit—previously known as the Central European Initiative—began in 1994 in Prague with mostly eastern-bloc nations attending. This year’s summit in Zagreb is the initiative’s largest gathering, including business leaders, bankers and heads of state from Italy, Austria, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia-Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Moldova.

Security is high, with more than 2 000 police and security officials on duty for the event. Downtown city traffic has virtually been halted.

Mesic also warned during his speech that the rejection of the proposed EU Constitution by French and Dutch voters earlier this year showed a need for discussing new approaches to integration.

The failed referendums effectively halted the effort to adopt a new charter, which would have streamlined decision-making in the bloc and provided for an EU foreign minister and president.

The Constitution’s rejection also cast doubt on the EU’s commitment to expansion, just months before the start of accession talks with Croatia and Turkey.

“It is time to define or even redefine the concept of Europe,” Mesic said. “We stand together before a historic challenge to ... seek new paths and new solutions.”—Sapa-AP

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