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European Leaders Want a Larger EU

September 17, 2002

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SALZBURG, Austria (AP) _ As a dwindling band of protesters scuffled with police outside, politicians and business leaders at the European Economic Summit fretted Monday over the sluggish economy and vowed to push ahead with expanding the European Union on schedule.

Weak growth and expansion to formerly communist eastern Europe dominated discussion at the gathering of 600 officials at Salzburg’s conference center, well out of earshot of a small but noisy band of protesters.

About 150 left-wing demonstrators blew whistles and chanted slogans against the summit’s sponsor, the Swiss-based World Economic Forum. ``Smash, smash, smash the WEF″ and ``Whose streets? Our streets!″ they chanted, briefly bumping up against police riot shields when they tried to turn toward the heavily guarded conference.

There were no arrests or injuries, police said, and the demonstration was calmer than last year. Then, 5,000 anti-globalization protesters demonstrated, a police officer was seriously injured and 17 people were arrested.

About 2,500 demonstrators marched peacefully on Sunday.

Inside, officials vowed to push ahead in December with offers of membership in the European Union for 10 new countries including Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary _ even though thorny questions about money issues such as farm subsidies haven’t been decided.

The EU’s enlargement commissioner, Guenter Verheugen, said that ``the momentum is so strong that it would be completely out of proportion to let it fail because we cannot reach agreement.″

Verheugen was seconded by Janez Drnovsek, the prime minister of Slovenia, one of the applicants expected to be given offers at an EU summit in December.

Some EU members object to farm subsidies promised to new members, while the new countries complain they would only get a quarter of what current members get.

The EU will have to sort out objections by Slovenia and the Czech Republic, who would become net contributors to the EU budget when they join instead of aid recipients.

Verheugen guaranteed the EU would fix that, with Drnovsek adding it would be difficult to explain to citizens of the small former Yugoslav republic ``that Slovenia should finance the European Union.″

The only obstacle that gave Verheugen pause was next month’s referendum in Ireland on the treaty allowing expansion, which was turned down in an earlier vote. Another Irish ``no″ would mean ``very, very serious technical and legal problems″ to expansion, Verheugen said.

The other applicants are Slovakia, Cyprus, Malta, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

President Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine _ a country far away from meeting the EU’s requirements _ gave an edgy speech, warning the union about leaving ``a gray zone on its borders.″

The sluggish European economy was a major topic, with worries expressed about the impact of a possible U.S. invasion of Iraq on growth that’s just above zero, and debate over Europe’s reputation for entangling businesses in red tape.

A forum survey of 900 business executives on Europe’s competitiveness ranked Europe as a whole consistently behind the United States in the amount of regulatory obstacles it throws in the way of new businesses, and dumped on Germany, the continent’s largest economy.

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