Wed, May 17, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Bulgaria, Romania urged to step up reforms for EU

BARRIERS TO ENTRY The European Commission faulted the two EU hopefuls in a draft report, outlining some areas where they have not yet met membership requirements

AP , STRASBOURG, FRANCE

The EU executive wants Bulgaria and Romania to speed up reforms before their planned entry into the EU on Jan. 1 next year, according to drafts of reports it was issuing yesterday.

Bulgaria must step up its fight against corruption and organized crime, as serious concerns remain about the effectiveness of its efforts in the field, according to a draft copy of the European Commission report seen by The Associated Press.

"While this has been a stated national priority, there are still no tangible results in investigating and prosecuting organized crime networks," the report said.

"The frequent contract killings of people linked to organized crime seldom give rise to successful investigation and prosecution and continue to represent a challenge for the rule of law in the country," the report said.

Bulgaria has reduced the number of problem areas to six from 16, but it still has not completed all required reforms. Romania has four, mostly technical, problem areas left. A commission official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that although Romania has shown better progress, both countries are likely to join the EU together next year as scheduled.

The countries are expected to be given several months to fulfill all the membership requirements. If they are still unprepared in some areas, the commission may then decide to implement so-called "safeguard clauses" -- monitoring mechanisms to ensure conditions are met before they have full benefits of EU membership.

A postponement of the entry date is unlikely because it would require unanimous agreement by all EU governments in the case of Bulgaria and majority agreement for Romania. Most of the 10 new member states that joined the EU in 2004 support next year's entry date for both countries.

Western European critics of the EU's expansion say the bloc has not fully dealt with the adhesion of 10 mostly ex-communist countries in 2004 and fear the entry of more nations will hasten the erosion of cherished social welfare benefits.

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