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EU: Annual Progress Reports Call On Accession States To Do More

The European Union's executive Commission tomorrow publishes its final progress reports on the 10 mostly Eastern accession states. The reports, obtained in advance by RFE/RL, indicate that the countries set to join next May have not yet met community standards in dozens of areas. The commission is demanding they take corrective action. Nevertheless, the expansion should still be able to go ahead on time.

Prague, 4 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union is issuing what should be its final annual reports on progress by most of the Eastern accession countries toward meeting membership criteria.

With now only six months to go before 10 of the candidates are scheduled to join the bloc, the European Commission notes in the reports that even at this late stage, the candidates are failing to implement dozens of entry requirements. The commission is urging the newcomers to make greater efforts to be ready on time.

Poland, the giant among the candidates, is the one with the most problems. The commission calls for "immediate and decisive action" by the Warsaw government to address nine issues of "serious concern" if it is to be ready by the date of accession.

Predictably, agriculture is one of those major issues, with the Poles lagging behind in creating the official payment agencies which will supervise support payments to farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy. Poland is also behind in implementing the required higher hygiene and health standards in food-production plants and in veterinary practices.

In Poland's case, some 40 other areas classified as being of less urgent concern include deficiencies in mechanisms to fight money laundering, drugs, corruption, and in the regulation of visas and control of the country's external borders.

For their part, the candidates are already saying they will try and make up the lost ground. As the agriculture counselor at the Polish mission to the EU in Brussels, Vladislav Pizkorz, put it: "We are making every possible effort in order to speed up adjustment in every possible field, legislation and institution building. We are not disregarding what the commission is saying; we are taking it seriously. We are not trying to find excuses, but to look positively on these remarks."

The Baltic republic Latvia also has a relatively high number of areas of serious concern, namely five, with over 30 areas of lesser concern. The more serious omissions include lack of preparations for mutual recognition of professional qualifications. That's a heading which also appears in the reports of five of the other candidates. Other common failings among the candidates are a lack of provision for the free movement of persons, and general continued weakness in public administration.

As to the other easterners, the Czech Republic has four areas of serious concern, Hungary four, Slovakia four, Estonia three, Lithuania two, and Slovenia one, plus of course many areas of lesser concern.

In view of this widespread noncompliance to entry requirements, the European Commission could still theoretically recommend that present EU member states decline to accept the entry of some or all of the newcomers next May.

However, officials in Brussels say that the commission is not considering delaying the enlargement schedule because of this backlog. As James Waltson, the professor of politics at Rome's American University, sees it, the process has gone too far for that. "The [EU's] intention to expand was a political one, not an economic one, and the presumption was that we want these people in, we want them in because it will help them and us in a much broader sense," he told RFE/RL.

Therefore, delay in the enlargement is not on the cards, Waltson said, even though carrying it out will be a "testing time for everyone."

The coming enlargement is the biggest ever undertaken by the EU at one stroke, and is expected to be followed in just three years' time by the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, and possibly Croatia, with the further prospect of other small Balkan states and Turkey joining in the coming years.

So on the virtual eve of the enlargement, are these reports of the 10 most advanced candidates indicative of disarray, or do they show the expansion process has basically met its aims? It's both, Waltson said, noting that each candidate can boast a longer list of requirements met than the list of unfulfilled terms. "[The reports] show a degree of realism," he said. "I think that it is necessary to have a clear idea of what the union is at the moment and what it is going to be, and the reports actually give us a pretty clear picture of where the problems are, the economic problems and the other problems of integration."

The annual progress reports for Bulgaria and Romania -- which are not expected to join the union before 2007 -- were not available in advance of official publication.

(RFE/RL Brussels correspondent Ahto Lobjakas assisted in compiling this report. )