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Finland says EU must remain open

Vanhanen was explaining the Finnish agenda for its six-month presidency of the EU to members of the European parliament. He said he was pleased that European leaders agreed last month not to add new criteria for membership. Enlarging the EU spread stability and democracy, he said, and was a response to the "challenges of globalisation". Vanhanen noted that a final decision would be taken during the Finnish presidency on an accession date for Bulgaria and Romania - likely to be 1 January 2007. Membership talks with Turkey and Croatia would continue to move forward "on the basis of the progress made". Correspondents say a crisis is looming in negotiations with Turkey, as Ankara gives no sign of formally recognizing EU member Cyprus, or opening its ports and airports to Cypriot vessels and ships. Vanhanen's comments marked a change in tone compared with the last holder of the EU presidency, Austria, which wanted the EU's capacity to absorb new countries to become a criterion for membership. Eurosceptic MEP Nigel Farage, of the UK Independence Party, accused the Finnish leader of riding roughshod over public opinion in Europe. "It's business as usual and you're going to press on with enlargement, you're going to press on with a common asylum policy, despite that fact that your own countrymen and virtually nobody else wants it," he said.

The EU will be debating the EU's "absorption capacity" at a summit in December. Finland has also vowed to move forward debate on the stalled EU constitution, by holding a series of consultations with member states, and ratifying the constitution in the Finnish parliament this autumn. Vanhanen told MEPs that the EU's relations with Russia would be a priority for the Finnish presidency. Ensuring a reasonable price for energy was essential for the European economy, he said; but the relationship was not just about energy, but about bringing Russia into a broad-based partnership founded on democratic values. He added that Finland would use powers under existing treaties to push ahead with more majority voting in some areas of justice and police co-operation. (BBC)