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EU: Experts Boost East's Administrative Reform

Prague, 30 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union is about to launch a new effort to help the 10 Central and East European applicant countries make administrative reforms essential to their prospective membership in the EU.

The EU's Executive Commission in Brussels says that within the next few months it will send a number of experts to each of the 10 countries. The experts, called "pre-accession advisers," will advise the host governments on how to make their administrative practices conform to modern, efficient and democratic standards.

The move may help boost morale at a time when some of the Eastern applicant countries are dismayed at the possibility that present EU member states, notably Germany and France, are becoming less eager to push through the expansion process. German political leaders in particular have cautioned that the EU --which has its own internal reforms to make-- must be what they call "realistic" about its ability to absorb new members in the next several years.

For the EU, sending scores of pre-accession advisers to the applicant countries is a new method of assistance. Under the initial 80-million-dollar phase of the program, almost 100 projects will be started in all 10 candidate countries in the first few months of next year. Romania tops the list with 19 projects in hand, followed by Hungary with 16, Slovenia with 14 and Slovakia with 13. The other countries are Poland with six projects, the Czech Republic with seven, Bulgaria six, Estonia four, Lithuania eight, and Latvia five. That adds up to a total of 98 projects.

Called "twinning," the program aims to pair bureaucrats and technical experts from EU member states with counterpart officials in the Eastern host countries. The experts will spend many months, sometimes more than a year, explaining how to apply EU legislation to specific areas of governmental activity.

To give an example, a project might involve Austrian officials helping explain to their Bulgarian counterparts how to bring Bulgaria's border controls up to EU standards. Another project might involve Italian officials explaining to their Romanian colleagues how to implement a value-added tax.

From the public's point of view, such projects may seem unspectacular, but they are an essential part of preparation for EU membership. An official (eds: a woman) in the European Commission in Brussels told RFE/RL that the scale of the twinning program shows the importance the EU places upon administrative reform.

The official described the program as critical in the preparation of countries for accession to the EU. She said that previous contacts with the applicant countries had shown EU authorities that while the Easterners were generally developing well as democratic states, their administrative systems were outdated and inefficient.

For instance, an applicant country may long have had strong laws protecting the purity of drinking water. But in reality the water coming out of taps may actually be heavily polluted. What the EU insists on, in such a case, is that the country develop reliable methods of monitoring water quality as well as mechanisms for improving the situation for consumers. As such, the work of the twinning program will affect the lives of most people in Central and East Europe.

The initial series of twinnings involves four key areas --agriculture, environment, finance, and justice and home affairs. The European Commission says that response to the program has been enthusiastic on all sides. When approached earlier this year, EU member states sent the Commission more than 350 twinning proposals. Using these proposals as a basis, the Commission arranged meetings with the applicant countries, and a process of choosing partners took place. Planning for a second round of twinnings next year began this month (October).

The Commission also points out that, in view of the need for training, the twinning projects can also involve sending applicant country officials to various schools and professional bodies in EU countries to increase their expertise.