-  Tuesday 29 September 2020

Brussels set to clear way for Romania's entry into EU

 -  George Parker

April 7 2006
Romania was yesterday shown an open door to join the European Union in January 2007 after Olli Rehn, the EU's enlargement commissioner, praised the country's judicial reforms and its crackdown on corruption.

Although Mr Rehn said Romania was "not there yet", he said that Bucharest had taken big strides towards meeting European concerns about its legalsystem.

Mr Rehn was speaking on his final fact-finding trip to Romania, ahead of presenting a report on May 16 on whether the Black Sea state can join the Union on January 1 next year.

"It's already clear today that Romania has made considerable progress over the past year," he said, after meeting Calin Popescu Tariceanu, prime minister.

However, the commissioner was much more critical of reforms in another EU candidate country - Bulgaria - which he accused of "losing time" in carrying out required judicial reforms.

Mr Rehn must recommend on May 16 whether either country should be made to wait a year before joining, to allow them to carry out further reforms.

Such a delay would be humiliating for Bucharest or Sofia. But Mr Rehn is under pressure from some European states to slow the pace of EU expansion in response to "enlargement fatigue".

Speaking to the Financial Times, Mr Rehn said he wanted "concrete results" from Romania to confirm its entry into the Union, including proof that judicial reforms were "irreversible".

However, he said Bucharest had taken seriously warnings on the issue last year and already had a limited track record in bringing prosecutions. He also praised Romania's efforts to secure its external borders.

In the case of Bulgaria, he said the country had slipped in its reforms in late 2004 and the first part of 2005, and that Brussels was working with Sofia to improve its constitutional law.

Although Romania and Bulgaria are guaranteed EU membership and Croatia is likely to become the Union's 28th member within the next five years, the prospect for future enlargement is becoming less clear.

Wolfgang Schüssel, Austria's chancellor who holds the rotating EU presidency, said that some western European countries had a "psychological" problem with extending the Union deeper into the Balkans and Turkey.

Peter Mandelson, EU trade commissioner yesterday urged countries in south-east Europe to develop a free trade area to prepare for EU membership, and insisted that Turkey, and even Ukraine, should look forward to joining the 25-member club.



Other articles by reporter George Parker

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