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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Santer Says Baltics May Still Join EU

RIGA, Latvia -- European Commission President Jacques Santer said Tuesday all the Baltic states could hope to enter an expanded European Union, although Estonia is so far the only one accepted to start membership talks.

Santer said at a news conference in Riga that EU enlargement "is an all-inclusive, evolving and embracing process that is applied equally to all 10 candidates."

Santer reiterated during a visit the same day to Estonia that Latvia, Lithuania and three other Eastern European nations could still hope for entry.

"Estonia meets the commission's criteria [for talks], but that does not mean other candidates are being discriminated against," he said in Tallinn.

"The process of EU expansion is not discriminative but inclusive," he added at a news conference.

The commission decided earlier this year to recommend Estonia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia for a first wave of EU expansion talks.

Santer said in Riga that the five states rejected by the commission -- Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria -- would not be left out of the process because the EU would continue bilateral contacts with each candidate.

Each year, the commission would also prepare a report on the readiness of each country to begin talks, he added.

"It is no longer a question of if expansion takes place, but how and when," Santer said.

All the Baltic states have made big strides to build market economies, but Estonia, which launched the most radical of the countries' reforms, has long been seen as the regional leader.

"Today, I spoke to the [Estonian] president, prime minister and foreign minister and saw that the preparation work is going on well," Santer said.

But he added there were still areas where Estonia needed to work to be ready to enter the EU, including the integration of its large Russian minority.