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Romanian President Hails EU Membership Report

President Basescu speaking to RFE/RL in Bucharest today (RFE/RL) BUCHAREST, September 26, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- In a wide-ranging interview with RFE/RL today, Romanian President Traian Basescu welcomed the European Commission's recommendation that Romania be allowed to join the European Union in January 2007 and spoke firmly in support of better relations between the bloc and the United States.

Basescu told RFE/RL that for Romania, European Union membership is just the beginning of a long process of reform.

In a final report released in the French city of Strasbourg, the European Commission said today both Romania and Bulgaria had made enough progress for entry on schedule in January 2007.

MORE: Read a transcript of the complete interview.

The commission's report also warned that a significant part of expected economic aid should be made conditional on the completion of further reforms needed in justice and home affairs, as well as food safety and state subsidies.

More To Be Done

Basescu welcomed the decision with cautious optimism, but warned against complacency in fulfilling the remaining tasks.

"As far as we are concerned, Romania's admission into the European Union does not represent the end of the road," he said. "It is just a foundation which, if we will continue reforms with enough speed, will turn Romania into a successful country. But, if we will think that once we have been admitted, there is nothing more to do, the failure is guaranteed."

The European Commission said it could impose sanctions on Bulgaria and Romania after they join the European Union unless the new members implement certain reforms.

The sanctions, which can be applied up to three years after accession in most cases, could mean excluding temporarily one or both countries from certain common EU policies and freezing parts of EU financial aid.

That prompted some commentators to say Romania and Bulgaria could become second-class members. Basescu, however, refuted such allegations.

"There is absolutely no question of such a division between [EU] countries," he said. "I assure you that, if such an issue would have been raised, Romania would not have accepted it as a way of tackling [the membership] negotiations."

Second-Class Members?

Some EU countries have said that they intend to impose restrictions upon workers coming from Romania. Basescu has earlier warned that if such restrictions were imposed on Romanians, Bucharest would retaliate in kind -- a statement that caused furor in the West.

"We hope that in bilateral relations with member states we will achieve a balance which would not turn Romania into a second-hand member," Basescu told RFE/RL. " If [some] will insist, then we will activate that condition which allows reciprocal restrictions. Of course, we will do that primarily at a political level, because we will place our reaction in the zone of politics. Romania has neither interest nor reasons to block the access of EU businessmen to investment opportunities, to block the access of cultural exchanges, of student to come and study here. But politically, we will respond in kind."

At the beginning of his mandate in December 2004, Basescu said one of his top priorities would be to establish a special partnership with the United States and Britain, which he referred to as the Bucharest-London-Washington axis. Today he said Romania's becoming an EU member will not change the special relationship.

Relations With Washington

"Our policy toward the United States remains unchanged," he said. "We will continually consolidate our strategic partnership with the United States. Inside the European Union we will behave like a very good European -- a country which by tradition is European cannot militate but for the good of Europe. We will support the necessity of a partnership between the European Union and the United States."

Basescu has launched a diplomatic offensive to include Romania in the Transdniester negotiation process, and to reevaluate the strategic importance of the Black Sea region. Romania is already a NATO member and will soon be the easternmost EU member.

RFE/RL asked Basescu what impact Romania's upcoming membership will have on political developments farther east, in Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, or the Caucasus.

"From the moment Romania becomes a member, it is clear that the European Union itself will have a border with the Black Sea and its problems, which are not few: frozen conflicts, massive human trafficking from the former Soviet republics to Europe, arms trafficking, drugs trafficking which has as final destination EU member states, including Romania," Basescu noted.

Romania's EU membership seems to bring more immediate restrictions than advantages for Moldovans, as well as Ukrainians, who are faced with travel restrictions. But Basescu said efforts are under way to help those living in neighboring countries to travel freely to Romania.

A Romanian soldier (left) on patrol with Afghan police in Kabul in June (epa)

"There are three countries where the Romanian community is extremely sizeable: Moldova, Ukraine -- the province of northern Bukovina in Ukraine [which had been part of Romania before World War II] -- and Serbia,with the Timok River region and the [province of] Serbian Banat," he said. "We are already having talks with the European Commission to find a formula which will not lead to a blockage in relations of Romanians living in neighboring countries with the motherland."

Basescu has recently rejected calls by Romanian government officials for the withdrawal of Romanian troops from Iraq. Today he told RFE/RL that Romania will continue its presence both in Iraq and Afghanistan for as long as necessary.

"We are under no pressure in Afghanistan, that is an action in which many NATO countries are involved, whether we are talking about France, Germany, Romania, the United States, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Belgium, in an effort based on UN resolutions which has to be completed," Basescu said. "As far as our presence in Iraq is concerned, our position is clear: we will not turn our backs and leave our allies saying we are fed up with Iraq and want to go home."

EU Expands Eastward

EU Expands Eastward

To view RFE/RL's archive of coverage related to EU expansion, click here .