EU due to report on Bulgaria and Rumania
13 May 2006 , BRUSSELS- It's Brussels most popular diplomatic guessing game. With only a few days to go before the European Commission gives it verdict on Bulgaria and Romania's bid to join the European Union in January 2007, speculation is rife on whether the two countries will meet the deadline.
13 May 2006
BRUSSELS- It's Brussels most popular diplomatic guessing game. With only a few days to go before the European Commission gives it verdict on Bulgaria and Romania's bid to join the European Union in January 2007, speculation is rife on whether the two countries will meet the deadline.
EU enlargement chief Olli Rehn, the man at the centre of the storm of rumours, is keeping a tight lid on the contents of his report, set to be unveiled on May 16.
"The jury is still out," Rehn told EU parliamentarians last month. While both countries had shown "determination" to undertake necessary reforms, both also needed to work harder to meet EU accession standards, he said.
"Should our analysis show that one or the other country is manifestly unprepared in a number of important areas, the Commission may ... recommend postponing the accession of either country from 2007 to 2008," warned Rehn.
Not surprisingly, the statement triggered a wave of speculation that Rehn and his team were set to delay Bulgaria and Romania's entry until 2008.
But postponment of accession is only one of the many scenarios doing the rounds in Brussels. There are also suggestions that Rehn will keep up the pressure for reform by delaying a decision on entry until autumn this year.
Others say that since Rehn has warned that Sofia is not doing enough to stamp out corruption and organized crime, the EU will "uncouple" the two countries' membership applications. This would allow Romania to slip through the doors while keeping Bulgaria waiting for an extra year.
Recent rumours suggest that the EU may decide to hold back aid to both countries pending changes in the two countries' systems for receiving and spending aid in the farm sector and for regional development.
Clearly also, the EU will use so-called "safeguard clauses" to restrict the entry of goods and services seen as below-standard and to shut the two countries out of parts of the internal market even after they join.
With his country identified as posing the most serious problems, Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev has been quick to warn that any delay in entry will be perceived as a rejection.
"It would be a mistake. We are not second-class European citizens. Do not try to humiliate us," pleaded Stanishev.
The Bulgarian premier has won support from some EU policymakers. "Bulgaria must not become the victim of a right-wing anti-enlargement backlash," Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, the president of European socialist parties, cautioned recently.
Romanian Interior Minister Vasile Blaga has also warned the commission against taking an "unfair" decision. "Romania fulfilled its obligations so I do not see any reason why it should not join on January 1, 2007," Blaga insisted recently.
Romania and Bulgaria missed the EU's first wave of expansion into former communist eastern Europe in 2004 because of the slower pace of political and economic reforms.
While that "Big Bang expansion" 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 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.
Fading popular support for enlargement has cast a shadow over EU plans to open its doors to western Balkan states - although all officials are careful not to mention any dates for such accession.
The fact that slow-coaches Bulgaria and Romania have been lagging behind in tackling corruption, organised crime and weak administrative and judicial systems has given additional ammunition to the enlargement naysayers.
Press reports say that the Netherlands and France are piling on the pressure to delay a decision on Bulgaria's EU entry date while Britain is believed to be backing a quick entry for both Bulgaria and Romania.
Refusing to comment on these and other rumours Rehn insists that the commission will be "objective and fair" in its assessment of the two countries' reform efforts, with the focus on factual information, not politics.
That may be wishful thinking, however. In an EU of 25 countries, when it comes to taking key decisions, politics is always part of the equation.
Subject: German news