- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The European Union will welcome Bulgaria and Romania, two of Washington’s strongest allies on the Continent, as full members on Jan. 1, but the strings attached to their accession will be the toughest in the organization’s history, EU officials said yesterday.

The officials also indicated that further enlargement will have to wait until member states find a compromise on the EU constitution, whose adoption last year was derailed by French and Dutch rejection in high-profile referendums.

The Bush administration praised the decision on Bulgaria and Romania, which joined NATO in 2004, but State Department spokesman Sean McCormack urged “the EU to continue to keep open a European horizon for a number of states, including those in the Balkans, and Turkey as well.”

The fifth wave of EU expansion caps seven years of negotiations with the two Balkan countries and brings the bloc’s membership to 27 and its population to about half a billion.

“The accession of Bulgaria and Romania will mark a historic achievement. Their readiness is a direct result of the sustained progress both countries have made,” said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn called the EU’s approach fair and rigorous. “It is fair because we recognized the progress that has been achieved, and we gave credit where it is due. It is rigorous because we established the necessary mechanism to accompany Bulgaria and Romania on their reform path, in the interest of the two countries and of the EU as a whole.”

The commission proposed close monitoring of areas where it determined reforms have not been sufficient — justice and home affairs, food safety and disbursement of EU subsidies — and will require progress reports every six months, beginning in March.

Serious crime is of particular concern in Bulgaria, whose judiciary has been criticized as sluggish and graft-prone, and it was asked to change its constitution to ensure the independence and accountability of its judicial system.

Romania is required to establish an anti-corruption agency to examine government officials’ potential conflict of interests. Both countries will have to guarantee a more transparent and efficient judicial process.

They must also eradicate swine fever to be able to sell pork in the rest of the bloc without restrictions, and improve safety of dairy products. They need to set up proper mechanisms to distribute billions in farm subsidies and other economic aid.

“Payments can be interrupted, suspended or canceled if the commission detects cases of irregularities, fraud or corrupt practices,” Mr. Rehn said, but he added that the commission hoped sanctions would be unnecessary.

Both countries also will face restrictions on access to other EU markets for their work force. Britain, Ireland and Sweden, which have complained of a flood of workers from Poland, the Baltic states and other countries that joined the EU in 2004, are considering the strictest rules.

But the Bulgarian ambassador to Britain, Lachezar Matev, told London’s Sunday Telegraph last week that Bulgarians are not likely to rush to Britain, because “we don’t like the climate, it’s every expensive and our medical services are better.”

Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said yesterday that EU membership was “the final fall of the Berlin Wall” for his country.

This article is based in part on wire service reports

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