- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 31, 2005


The European Union hopes to move forward again after a year of paralyzing divisions.EU nations, particularly heavyweights France and Britain, argued bitterly in 2005 over how the 25-nation bloc should spend its money and fund the integration of its 10 newest members, mostly poorer East European countries.

A budget deal reached by EU leaders in mid-December should allow the bloc to concentrate on other pressing issues, including how to revive European economies so they can compete with rising powers such as China. But there are deep divisions over how to do that.

Other thorny questions are whether the EU can absorb more countries, including predominantly Muslim Turkey, and whether a proposed EU constitution can be revived after being rejected by French and Dutch voters.

President Bush could lose a key European ally when Italy holds elections, most likely in April. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who sent troops to Iraq over domestic opposition, faces a tough battle with center-left candidate Romano Prodi, a former EU president who opposed the war in Iraq.

Before that vote, Italy hosts the Winter Olympics in Turin in February and is on guard against a terrorist attack.

Bulgaria, which like neighbor Romania is rushing to complete reforms so they can join the EU in 2007, holds a presidential election in the fall. President Georgi Parvanov is expected to seek a second five-year term.

The Balkan breakup that caused bloody wars in the 1990s still has effects. Serbia and Montenegro could cease to exist when pro-independence Montenegro holds a referendum on its status in April. Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority is pushing to get independence in U.N.-sponsored talks, further shrinking Serbia. Bosnia elects a president and new parliament in the fall.

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