Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja praised Cyprus for its EU membership preparations on Thursday, May 14, and said the country led the pack in that regard, but refused to say whether it would be among the first to be offered membership.
"We are very happy with the progress Cyprus has made in the enlargement negotiations, and we can say that Cyprus is number one in terms of preparing for European Union membership," Tuomioja said at a joint press conference with his Cypriot counterpart Ioannis Kasoulides.
Tuomioja dodged however the question of whether Cyprus would be among the first of the 12 applicant countries to be asked to join, saying only: "Finland welcomes Cyprus and the other candidate countries as soon as their negotiations are completed."
Cyprus and Hungary have come the farthest in their membership negotiations. As the latest round of talks between the EU and the 12 candidate countries wound up in Luxembourg on Tuesday, Cyprus and Hungary had closed 22 of the 29 chapters up for negotiation.
Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus began membership negotiations in 1998, followed a year later by a second round of hopefuls: Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and Malta.
Kasoulides was in Finland on a two-day visit before attending a European Union summit in the Swedish coastal city of Gothenburg on Friday and Saturday. In addition to talks on EU enlargement, Tuomioja and Kasoulides discussed stalled UN-sponsored talks on the division of Cyprus.
"We are ready to resume the talks, and we hope that in 2002 we can reach a settlement. If not, we expect the Helsinki decision of 1999 will apply, and that the efforts for a united Cyprus will continue after the membership of Cyprus to the European Union," Kasoulides said.
It was during a Helsinki European Council meeting in 1999 that the European Union decided to accept Cyprus membership application, despite the fact that its northern part is occupied by Turkey. ― (AFP, Helsinki)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)