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EU expansion possible without constitution-Barroso

Written by: Staff
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HELSINKI, July 3 (Reuters) The European Union can continue to expand after Romania and Bulgaria join even if a stalled constitutional treaty is not adopted, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said today.

After talks with the new Finnish EU presidency, Barroso said it was wrong to consider that no further accessions were possible once the two Black Sea states enter the bloc next year or in 2008, taking the number of members to 27.

''There is some misunderstanding. We do not consider that with the Nice treaty, we cannot have new members,'' he said, noting the document provided for a review of the composition of the European Commission once the bloc reached 27 members.

Barroso said the EU executive was not giving up on getting the institutional reforms contained in the constitution treaty, which has been in limbo since French and Dutch voters rejected it in referendums last year.

''We are not now preparing any other scenario,'' he told a news conference with Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen.

His comments contrasted with statements by Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn and a resolution by the European Parliament suggesting a new institutional settlement would be required before the EU could admit further newcomers.

The Nice treaty does not provide for numbers of weighted votes and parliamentary seats for candidate countries after Romania and Bulgaria such as Croatia or Turkey.

Diplomats said they could be inserted in those countries' accession treaties, but that might well prompt a renewed EU debate about the institutional balance.

Vanhanen said Finland was determined to conduct an EU summit debate in December on the future of enlargement in a way that set no new conditions for candidates and made clear it was up to the existing member states to be ready to absorb them.

''Absorption capacity is a responsibility for the member states and not for the applicant country,'' he said.

Austria tried unsuccessfully last month to have absorption capacity defined as an extra criterion for candidate states in an apparent bid to make Turkey's accession more difficult.

REUTERS SHR HT1800

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