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Brussels to watch Bucharest, Sofia closely in EU

brussels bureau

Brussels to watch Bucharest, Sofia closely in EU


With especially tough conditions, the European Commission is due to issue a final review this Tuesday of Romania and Bulgaria’s bids to join the European Union. Brussels is not expected to propose any further delay. It will recommend they join on Jan. 1, 2007.

Corruption and inept government in the newcomers are the reasons the EU executive could recommend sanctions and cutbacks in aid if reforms flounder. The two must also take corrective action, especially Bulgaria, to strengthen their courts and state administration.

European Policy Center analyst Jackie Davis: “This is the first time the EU has ever done this. I think it reflects the fact that the EU was caught into a dilemma: it had no option really but to let Bulgaria and Romania in, because otherwise they automatically join in a year’s time and the pressure would be off. So they voted for this but with very tough measures.”

The newcomers could forfeit hundreds of millions of euros in membership benefits unless their agencies to allocate EU aid become swiftly operational, notably for agriculture and regional development. Romania has 22 million people, Bulgaria 8 million. They will be the poorest EU members, with economic output per capita of around one-third of the EU average. “Politically, it was felt that they couldn’t split the two. So they go in with the same sort of warnings, but of course it depends on their behaviour and their record, so they could be treated very differently further downs the road.”

By keeping the pressure on, insiders say Brussels is also seeking to smooth ratification of the accession treaty in EU national parliaments. But the EU enlargement commissioner wanted to avoid delaying membership until 2008, as the treaty allows, considering that this would humiliate the countries and possibly spark an anti-EU backlash.

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