The European Commission has given Roumania and Bulgaria the green light to join the EU on January 1st 2007 – but strict conditions are to be attached to agricultural and development aid. EC president José Manuel Barroso confirmed the widely expected verdict to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Barroso also said the EU’s internal rules needed reforming before any more entrants could be accepted. “After the completion of this fifth enlargement with accession of Bulgaria and Romania, I believe that an institutional settlement should precede any future enlargement, this is the way to ensure that our enlarged Union will function in an efficient and harmonious way.”
In the eagerly-awaited report, the commission said it wanted to see stricter controls on corruption, crime and food safety standards in both countries. But rather than delay accession and risk an anti-EU backlash, it preferred to maintain the previously agreed timetable and make aid conditional on further reform.
The stand won broad support from Euro MPs.
“It’s not a blank cheque,” said French socialist Pierrre Moscovici. “It takes problems into account, it tells our Romanian and Bulgarian friends, ‘Careful, the work is not finished, we must continue to make an effort.’ We’ve still got safety clauses.”
Among the measures the commission wants to see is an amendment to the Bulgarian constitution to clearly establish the independence of the judiciary and tougher controls in Romania to clampdown on corruption among civil servants and politicians.
Billions of euros in farm subsidies and regional aid could potentially be frozen if the conditions are not met.