THE EUROPEAN Union will expand to include new members on May 1, 2004, rather than January 1 as originally planned, the foreign ministers of EU countries agreed. The date must still be approved at a December EU summit in Copenhagen.
The change is intended to give heads of EU states more time to prepare for 10 new Union members, while still allowing the new members to participate in summer elections to the European Parliament in Brussels.
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said he did not mind the later EU entry date, provided certain requirements were met.
"It will not be a problem, if these conditions are taken into consideration: to be able to participate in the European Parliamentary election as a member state, to participate as a full-fledged member at the Inter-Governmental Conference (on future reform) and to receive finances (from the EU budget) as if we were members as of January 1, 2001," he told the TASR news agency.
Finalising the entry date has important financial, institutional and practical implications with respect to the EU budget for 2003, which still has to be drafted, and the reform of institutions that is set to take place.
When Slovakia enters the EU on May 1, 2004, it can expect to save some Sk4.5 billion ($108 million) in payments to the EU budget. On the other hand, subject to a final decision on the EU budget, it will probably lose the right to compensation benefits.
The European Commission should issue final evaluations on future members six months before their entry.