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EU: Romania, Bulgaria Threatened With Accession Delay

Olli Rehn (file photo) (AFP) EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn today raised the prospect that Bulgaria and Romania could miss out on joining the EU at the start of 2007. Both have already signed accession treaties, but Rehn said neither is ready for membership. European Commission annual progress reports on both countries say they suffer from corruption, mishandle EU aid money, and fail to implement EU food-safety standards. As a result, the EU could decide next spring to postpone the entry of either of the countries -- of both together -- by one year.

Brussels, 25 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The reports on Bulgaria and Romania, presented by Olli Rehn to the European Parliament in Strasbourg today, were couched in the commission’s usual technocratic and carefully considered terms.

Hidden in both, however, was a warning that could have real political consequences for both countries.

As Rehn told the EU deputies in Strasbourg, Bulgaria and Romania must speed up reform if they want to join the EU on 1 January 2007. Of particular concern, Rehn said, is that many of the problems are not just technical, but also have serious political implications.

"Both countries continue to fulfill the political criteria, which are related as you know to the rule of law, human rights, and democracy. While much has been done, there is still room for further progress. In particular, efforts are needed to pursue the reform of public administration, to implement effectively the reform of the justice system and to enhance the fight against corruption, particularly at high level. In the area of human rights and the protection of minorities and vulnerable groups, further efforts are needed by Bulgaria and Romania," Rehn said.

Rehn said both countries have satisfactorily implemented about half of all EU legislation. Another 40 percent does not constitute a real problem. But he said grave shortcomings exist when it comes to the remainder.

"We have also identified a limited number of areas or issues of serious concern, covering approximately 10 percent of the acquis communautaire [that is, EU law]. These are areas where, unless the countries take immediate and decisive corrective action, they will not be ready at the envisaged date of accession," Rehn said.

"The third area of particular concern is the fight against corruption, where limited progress has been made." -- Rehn

Rehn identified three policy areas of particular concern. He said the first relates to both countries’ ability to absorb and invest the billions of euros of EU aid for which Bulgaria and Romania become eligible as full members.

"The first point relates to Bulgaria‘s and Romania’s ability to reap fully the benefits from EU funds upon accession: To manage EU funds, an overall reinforcement of the administrative structures in both countries is required. This includes the setting up of the paying agencies for agricultural funds and the required structures in the field of regional policy," Rehn said.

The second issue concerns problems with ensuring that EU food-safety standards are applied -- a serious point considering that once they join, both countries would be able to export their produce unchecked to the rest of the bloc.

The third issue, corruption, is arguably the most grievous, Rehn said. "The third area of particular concern is the fight against corruption, where limited progress has been made," he said. "The failure to obtain even a single significant conviction for high-level corruption in recent years, despite commonly available information on its scale, is a cause for serious concern in both countries. Urgent efforts are needed here."

All of these issues affect both countries equally. The commission will decide in April or May whether to recommend a delay in accession. The recommendation would then need to be endorsed by EU member states.

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