Bulgaria and Romania set to join EU in 2007
16 May 2006, BRUSSELS - The European Union's decision Tuesday to set a conditional January 2007 entry date for Bulgaria and Romania spotlights key political dilemmas facing the bloc as it continues to expand eastwards into former communist countries.
16 May 2006
BRUSSELS - The European Union's decision Tuesday to set a conditional January 2007 entry date for Bulgaria and Romania spotlights key political dilemmas facing the bloc as it continues to expand eastwards into former communist countries.
EU enlargement chief Olli Rehn is anxious to keep up the pressure for reform in the new wave of countries which are demanding to join the 25-nation club.
As such, Rehn is clearly hoping his decision to make the 2007 accession date for Bulgaria and Romania conditional on further political and economic reform efforts, will spur both countries to speed up internal change and restructuring.
But EU officials also know that any further delays, including earlier calls from some countries that Bulgarian and Romanian accession should be put off until 2008, would have discouraged the two countries' reformist governments and created a public backlash against the EU, whose fall-out may be felt through the region.
Rehn's cautious stance on Bulgaria and Romania also reflects growing domestic EU concerns on the bloc's future borders.
EU officials know they have to strike a balance between the need to bring peace, stability and prosperity to the bloc's immediate neighbourhood and fears in western Europe that most of the countries waiting in the wings are poorer and more volatile than their western counterparts.
While the EU's 2004 "big bang expansion" - covering the accession of ten mainly central and eastern European states - went fairly smoothly, two years later the mood in Europe has changed radically.
The rejection last year of an EU draft treaty by French and Dutch voters has set off a bout of pessimism across the bloc, with many key politicians, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisting that the the EU should put the brakes on its eastward expansion.
Many Europeans continue to fear an influx of low-cost eastern European workers into the EU while labour unions worry that western European companies are relocating to the east in search of cheap labour.
While negotiations have opened with Turkey and Croatia and Macedonia has been accepted as a candidate state, fading popular support for enlargement has cast a shadow over EU plans to further open its doors, especially to poorer western Balkan states.
As a result, although EU policy makers insist that all Balkan states have an "EU future", they have been careful not to mention any dates for such accession.
In fact, EU foreign ministers meeting in Salzburg in March made clear that the bloc's "absorption capacity" must be taken into account when future expansion decisions are taken by governments.
Rehn's reports on Bulgaria and Romania struggled to combine encouragement for reform efforts made so far with stark warnings that more needed to be done - especially by Bulgaria - to meet EU entry standards.
The much-respected EU enlargement chief insisted that Bulgaria and Romania must step up efforts to tackle corruption, organised crime and upgrade their weak administrative and judicial systems.
Pinpointing Bulgaria as the country which needed to step up the drive to fully comply with EU entry standards, the commission - the EU's executive arm - warned there were six areas of "serious concern which require urgent action" by Sofia.
The commission said Bulgaria must provide "clearer evidence of results in investigating and prosecuting organized crime networks."
"Indictments, prosecutions, trials, conviction and dissuasive sentences remain rare in the fight against high-level corruption. Bulgaria needs to present clear evidence of results in this area," the commission warned.
Sofia must also ensure "more effective and efficient" implementation of laws for the fight against fraud and corruption, the report said.
"Intensified enforcement of anti-money laundering provisions" was needed, the commission underlined, adding that it also wanted "strengthened financial control for the future use" of EU aid funds.
On a more technical level, Bulgaria was asked to set up a "proper integrated administration and control system" for receiving EU farm aid, to improve animal health regulations.
"The social inclusion of the Roma minority still requires substantial efforts," the commission added.
The commission's to-do list for Romania is shorter and more technical, with four points mainly covering food safety and setting up agencies to pay EU farm aids.
In a reflection of tougher conditions for newcomers, even once Bulgaria and Romania are in, they will be subject to a special monitoring system for the first three years to ensure that efforts to tackle corruption and reform the judiciary are yielding results.
Analysts say such close monitoring is unprecedented in the EU, effectively giving the new entrants second-class membership.
But with the EU now in increasingly introspective mode, Rehn's tough conditional offer is one that Bulgaria, Romania - and others in the EU waiting line - cannot afford to turn down.
Subject: German news