East Europe, Baltics Now WEU 'Associates'

LUXEMBOURG -- The European Union's fledgling defense group granted close and regular security consultations to six East European neighbors and the three Baltic republics. Foreign and defense ministers of the Western European Union -- which comprises the 12 EU states except Denmark and Ireland -- on Monday bestowed "associate partner" status on Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. These countries have concluded, or are negotiating, association accords with the EU that offer EU membership in 2000 for some, notably Hungary and Poland. As WEU "associate partners" they can attend every other weekly WEU ambassadors' session at the organization's head office in Brussels. They received no security guarantees and cannot veto WEU decisions. But they will be able to raise their own security concerns with the WEU and contribute troops to peacekeeping and humanitarian missions. In a statement after their meeting, the WEU ministers said the associate partnerships were to prepare the East Europeans "for their integration and eventual accession to the European Union, opening up in turn the perspective of membership in the WEU." "For the first time we are really associated to an existing structure," Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu said. WEU Secretary General Wim van Eekelen -- speaking of Russia and fears that Moscow's former foes are expanding their zone of influence eastward -- said the WEU extension "was not directed against anybody."