The two Balkan states have been allowed to join the EU on 1 January 2007, but stringent conditions will apply, and in an unprecedented move, penalties may be imposed for non-compliance.
The European Commission’s final progress report on the two countries states that they have attained ‘a high degree of alignment’ with EU needs. However, pressure will be applied to reduce organised financial crime and corruption at the highest level of the government and judiciary, and to control animal disease. Both countries will have to report every six months about progress in fighting corruption, and by March 2007, they will need to establish agencies to handle EU aid to the agricultural sector, or risk losing up to a quarter of the funds.
Romania has been commended for tackling high-level corruption, including investigations into senior politicians, including the Prime Minister; progress has been somewhat slower in Bulgaria. Money-laundering and the accountability of civil servants are other areas of concern. Both states will face food export bans if there should be outbreaks of animal disease, such as swine fever or foot-and-mouth, while Bulgarian planes could be banned from flying into EU airspace until the country improves its air safety standards.
The accession of the two states may be the last for some time; Commission President José Manuel Barroso has hinted that progress needs to be made on the draft Constitution before new members are allowed to join. At the front of the queue are Croatia and Turkey, which initiated accession talks in October 2005; the former could join by 2010, the latter by 2015. The other states of the former Yugoslavia have been offered the possibility of membership, dependent on the spread of democracy, the rule of law, a market economy and adherence to the EU's objectives of political and economic union.
26 September 2006