EU Cannot Expand Indefinitely French PM Says

BERLIN (Reuters)–The European Union cannot go on expanding indefinitely and the bloc must carefully review Turkey’s application to join at every stage of negotiations–French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said on Wednesday.

France hoped Bulgaria and Romania could join the EU as soon as a report by the bloc’s executive–due by May–would allow but Balkan countries could only join if they complied strictly with entry criteria–Villepin said on a trip to Berlin.

"The (European) Union does not feel a vocation today to expand indefinitely," Villepin said in a speech at Humboldt University in the German capital before heading on to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Members of the EU Commission will visit Bulgaria and Romania in April and report by May whether they have made enough progress to join the EU–particularly in reforming their justice system and in combating corruption.

"Regarding Turkey–the opening of membership negotiations is a major political act that takes note of the geopolitical changes in the region and Turkey’s efforts," Villepin said.

"It’s a decision of which the outcome must remain open until the end of the negotiations," he said–adding that the negotiating process should be reviewed at each stage. "In France the last word will go to the French people via a referendum."

Villepin’s commen’s on limiting the EU’s expansion follow a call from French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy last week for the bloc to freeze its expansion until it has reformed its institutions.

Villepin and Sarkozy are locked in an undeclared battle to win the nomination as the main conservative candidate for a presidential election in France next year.

President Jacques Chirac backed the launch of EU accession talks with Ankara but many in the ruling Union for a Popular Movement–which Sarkozy heads–are against mainly Muslim Turkey joining–reflecting widespread concern among the population.

The EU needed to show boldness after French and Dutch voters rejected the bloc’s constitution last year–Villepin said.

"It is by giving the European project a face that is concrete–tangible–accessible to everyone that we can move forward," he said–but he gave few details on how the EU could make a new start.

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