Leaders of Latvia and Lithuania yesterday put on a brave face after the European Union’s summit declined to advance them from the second to the first group–which includes Estonia–of applicant countries. The prime ministers, foreign ministers and parliamentary leaders in Riga and Vilnius commented that the reforms demanded by the EU were beneficial to their countries irrespective of the outcome of this summit. The leaders pledged to keep up the pace of internal reforms in the hope of gaining equal status with Estonia and other Group 1 countries next year. Latvian and Lithuanian leaders also observed that Germany, France and several Southern European countries prevailed over the Nordic countries in imposing a temporary halt on the EU’s enlargement process, particularly with respect to the Baltic countries.
The EU summit in Vienna decided to begin talks next year with the Group 2 countries harmonizing their national legislations with that of the EU. The decision seems, at least in the short term, to equalize Latvia and Lithuania with laggard countries in the second group. However, Latvian and Lithuanian officials yesterday expressed hope that the harmonization talks will demonstrate their countries’ preparedness for fast-track negotiations and will de facto equalize them with Group 1 countries.
Prior to the summit, the European Commission’s progress report had praised the performance of Latvia and Lithuania, and recommended inviting Latvia to pre-accession negotiations in 1999. Lithuania felt that only the issue of the Ignalina nuclear power plant (which the EU wants shut down) kept the country from obtaining a similar promise for 1999. The Vienna summit, however, failed to mention a date for opening pre-accession negotiations with Latvia or Lithuania. Their leaders, aware that the EU’s internal politics currently hamstring its enlargement, apparently decided to put an optimistic spin on the procrastination. This reaction is not unjustified in light of Latvia’s and Lithuania’s progress which ought to earn them fast-track status sooner rather than later (BNS, AP and Reuters, December 14).
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