EU Members Scratch Their Heads: `Who Wouldn't Want to Join Us?' in 11th-Hour Membership Negotiations, Wealthy Scandinavian and Austrian Candidates Bargain Tough for Concessions from a Recession-Weary European Union

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IS membership in the European Union worth the loss of Alpine tranquility, or heavy subsidies to Arctic farmers, or protection of Nordic fishermen?

That, in a nutshell, is the question that Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Austria have been asking themselves as they negotiate for membership in the 12-country European Union.

As the difficult and drawn-out negotiations were set to come right down to a midnight deadline yesterday, with no assurances of success, the applicant countries' tough bargaining appeared to bewilder many on the EU side. After all, wasn't the European Union supposed to be the magnet, the principal political and economic pole that would attract the rest of Europe at all costs?

"We're talking about membership in a union, the European Union, with all the privileges and responsibilities that entails, but you'd think from the way these talks are going that it's us requesting entry into Scandinavia," says one EU official, echoing a frequent refrain in Brussels, the EU headquarters.

The EU's inability to resist the deepest recession of the postwar era and its failure to pull much weight in negotiating a Bosnian peace settlement have tarnished its image as a fortress of economic power and a budding political force, observers note. That, coupled with the fact that the EU's current members want the four wealthy candidates admitted into the Union, has emboldened the applicant countries to push for concessions that they might not have dreamed of if the beleaguered EU were in better straits.

EU officials continued to insist yesterday that the midnight negotiating deadline had very little give for any candidate hoping to be in the Union by Jan. 1, 1995 - primarily because the European Parliament must review each final membership agreement before Parliament elections this May if the four are to have time to hold referendums this year.

Most observers in Brussels concluded after marathon negotiating over the weekend that Sweden, Finland, and possibly Austria would meet the deadline, while Norway - which already said "no" once to membership in 1972 - was the farthest away from an accord.

Norway is sticking adamantly to its demand - summarized in Brussels as "Not one more cod for Europe" - that its fishing waters remain closed to Ireland, Portugal, and Spain, as under an existing fishing agreement. At the same time, however, the Norwegian government is demanding full access to the European Single Market for its fish products - a demand opposed by France, where recent riots by Breton coast fishermen have toughened the government's stance.

Austria, which at one point was considered a shoo-in for membership because of its close relations with Germany and economic dependence on the EU, has also stiffened its negotiating - most recently over truck access to its Alpine highways. …