PositionLaeken, Belgium - Statistical Data Included

Enlargement.Though the question of enlargement was only briefly touched upon during the working dinner, the Member States reaffirmed the conclusions of last June's Gothenburg Summit. "We have decided to stick to the timetable for the negotiations, as the events of September 11 provide even more reasons to enlarge Europe (...). We need continental Europe to be unified if we want the European Union to play a role in the world," Guy Verhofstadt declared, appealing to his colleagues to reaffirm their commitment to the enlargement process to the candidate countries. Speaking in a personal capacity, he suggested "examining the possibility of designating at the Laeken Summit those countries that could be ready to finalise negotiations by the end of 2002".This proposal took the Commission by surprise as the negotiations on the most difficult chapters (Structural funds, Agriculture, Budget) have not even begun. This will make it difficult to determine by December those countries that could join first. Moreover, in its report to be published on October 13 on the progress of negotiations, the Commission is not required to give any further timetable for the enlargement process. Indeed, Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Louis Michel sought to make light of the Prime Minister's remark when he spoke the following morning, October 20, in the margins of the European Conference (see separate article, section V).This unexpected proposal by the President of the European Council also surprised other Member States. The Council managed to agree to mandate the Presidency and the Commission to accept Poland's request for an extended period for the implementation of common environmental legislation.Economic situation.The working session opened with a debate on general economic policy, giving Guy Verhofstadt the opportunity to deliver a message of "prudent optimism". In a declaration, the leaders described the slow down that has taken place since the start of the international crisis that began on September 11 as "temporary and of limited impact". However, this public confidence masks an on-going and still unresolved struggle over monetary policy. Initially, the Presidency, under pressure from France, Germany and Italy, had tried reluctantly to get endorsement for a statement stipulating that "(the Heads of State and Government) believe that the reduction in inflation provides the monetary authorities with the room for manoeuvre to take decisive monetary action". In a preparatory meeting most countries rejected this formula, while ECB President, Wim Duisenberg, felt it was contrary to the Central Bank's independence. In the end, it is the Member States themselves who have undertaken to create the conditions for a rate cut. In the final statement, the European Council notes that "a further improvement in inflation prospects and the maintenance of wage restraint will provide room for manoeuvre for monetary policy"."It is thus an observation and not a request," Belgian...

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