Romania and Bulgaria pledge reforms after nod from Commission Financial_Times - 2004/10/6
Bulgaria and Romania will embark on a series of reforms in response to today's decision to give them a green light to join the European Union.

The countries are likely to join in 2007 in the next wave of EU enlargement after 10 countries joined this year.

Bulgaria is expected to announce additional measures to reform its judicial system and fight corruption in response to criticism in the European Commission's report. The minority government of right-of-centre prime minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg, which relies on support from an ethnic Turkish political party, has made economic restructuring a priority. As a result, Bulgaria is behind schedule on meeting the political criteria for EU membership.

Corruption is still a big issue, in part because the judiciary is too weak to press cases against senior officials, politicians and businessmen, the Commission says.

"Corruption levels did not change significantly in the past year," said a spokesman for Coalition 2000, a Sofia-based civil society group. "High level corruption remains a problem, although there's been a significant reduction in small-scale corruption in the administration."

The EU's safeguard clause, which could delay both countries' entry until 2008, is seen as an incentive for Mr Saxe-Coburg to complete reforms before a general election due in June. Unlike Romania, Bulgaria has completed the negotiating process. It was judged to have a "functioning market economy", a benchmark for EU membership, the Commission said in a study last year.

In saying today that Romania has met the same economic test, the Commission will send a strong signal to potential investors that the country has made important progress on reforms, according to some business leaders.

"This is badly needed," said Bogdan Baltazar, president of BRD Société Générale, a Bucharest-based bank.

Mr Baltazar said he expected the news would help spur foreign investment in Romania and that the presence of more multinational companies would increase pressure on the government to continue with reforms. However, Romania has yet to complete negotiations on the sensitive issues of government subsidies and anti-corruption measures and judicial reform.

Less than two months before parliamentary and presidential elections, some observers believe the government has dragged its heels on reform, failed to crack down on corruption and restricted press freedoms.

There continues in Brussels to be some opposition to Romania's entry in 2007 amid fears about its progress in carrying out reforms.

"Romania suffers from endemic problems of corruption, lacks an independent judiciary, has an inadequate free press, and has not halted torture carried out by police officers," said Baroness Sarah Ludford, a Liberal Democrat member of the European parliament.

Author: Theodor Troev

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