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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Union Split Over Eastward Expansion

BRUSSELS -- The European Union, eager to bring its former communist neighbors into the Western fold, is engaged in a delicate balancing act with countries in the south.

A meeting of EU foreign ministers Monday agreed a game plan for eventually bringing Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slokavia into the bloc.

But diplomats said the plan, to be presented to EU leaders at a summit in the German town of Essen on Dec. 9 to 10, was only agreed after a deal had been struck concerning future relations with the countries of the Mediterranean basin.

"We simply want there to be balance with the Mediterranean," French Foreign Minister Alain Jupp? said.

Southern EU countries such as France and Spain are worried that the EU's headlong rush to bring former communist Eastern Europe in from the cold will shift the bloc's center of gravity too far away from them.

Others, such as Germany and Britain, are keen to expand eastward to bolster security on the union's flank and to tap potentially huge new markets there.

While the southern countries are going along with plans to bring in the east, existing divisions were underlined Monday when the EU ministers agreed on the project for Eastern Europe effectively without providing financial backing.

The southerners made it clear that a Mediterranean program of some sort had to be in place before they would sign off on an expected five-year price tag of around $8.48 billion for development in the east.

Hence a deal was cut in which the Eastern Europe plan refers only to money currently budgeted for the EU's main aid program next year -- about $1.32 billion -- as the minimum basis for a future funding agreement.

At the same time, the ministers ignored a European Commission call for about $8 billion to be paid for Mediterranean basin projects over the next five years in favor of backing a budgeted $590 million next year as another minimum basis.

As is common with EU decisions, ministers ended up with a deal that simply postpones conflict.

The ministers also adopted a paper on Mediterranean policy that German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said reflected that region's "similar strategic importance to the European Union as central and eastern Europe."

Leaders of the six Eastern European countries have been irritated by the failure of Germany to deliver an invitation to the summit at Essen. Although having them there would provide a centerpiece to the summit and underline Germany's well-known support for their membership, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl is said to be undecided about inviting them.