By MARY CAFFREY
Associated Press Writer
ESSEN, Germany (AP) – Austria, not quite through the door of the European Union, on Friday served notice it would prefer a go-slow approach to embracing its eastern European neighbors in the expanding trade bloc.
“I think we should be cautious,” Austria’s minister of state for European affairs told a news conference at the opening of a two-day EU summit.
Austria will join the bloc Jan. 1, along with Sweden and Finland. But in the meantime, the Austrians are observers at the summit, and a major point of the meeting is to take a concrete step in the long process of absorbing six eastern European nations.
“The European Union should do a lot for the integration of these countries,” both politically and economically, said the Austrian minister, Brigitte Ederer. But the union should not admit them too quickly, she said.
“Otherwise, we will have an economic disaster in the countries, because they are not economically competitive with the member states of the European Union,” Ederer said.
The eastern Europeans won’t be given a date for when they can join. But the EU will adopt a blueprint setting out the steps the six eastern nations must take. For example, their laws have to be tailored to the union’s single-market rules.
Leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia were invited to the summit Saturday. These countries have signed economic and political accords that are a stepping stone to EU membership.
Ederer said Austria plans to ask for European Union money to help build a railway from Munich, Germany to Verona, Italy. It would be one of 14 Trans-European railway networks planned to boost employment throughout the region.
Austria, a transit country between Germany and Italy, has until now had more control over the amount of traffic it allows through its territory.
More traffic – especially from trucks – was a major point for Austrians who voted in June against joining the EU. Many Austrians feared increased traffic would damage the environment as well as the economy, but a majority voted to join anyway.
Ederer called for traffic to move “from the streets and onto the railways,” and also wanted increased payments for allowing trucks through the country.
The planning of one 30-kilometer (18.6 miles) stretch, between Woigel and Innsbruck, Austria, will cost 800 million Austrian schillings (dlrs 72.7 million).
It is possible for Austria to receive up to 70 percent of that amount, but Ederer said she does not expect that much from the EU.
The union allows 430 billion European Currency Units (dlrs 480 billion) per year for Trans-European Railway projects. An Austrian official said the country could expect from the EU about 100 million Austrian schillings (dlrs 9 million) for its project.
Ederer said the project would employ Europeans throughout the region, calling the fight against unemployment the highest priority for Austria and the EU.
She said dealing with unemployment must be a priority in order for union to gain the people’s respect.
December 9, 1994