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10th Dec 2022

Brussels puts raft of safeguards on 'historic' enlargement

The prospect of tough EU safeguards will hang like a Damocles sword over Bulgaria and Romania when they become the newest members of the club in January.

Sofia and Bucharest on Tuesday (26 September) received the long awaited go-ahead from the European Commission to enter the EU as planned on 1 January 2007, avoiding the worst-case scenario of a one-year membership delay.

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  • "The accession of Bulgaria and Romania will mark a historic achievement," said Mr Barroso (Photo: Wikipedia)

"Our conclusion is that both countries are in the position to take on the rights and obligations of European Union membership on the first of January 2007," said European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso to applause by MEPs.

"The accession of Bulgaria and Romania will mark a historic achievement," he added.

"On this occasion I would like to congratulate the peoples and authorities of Bulgaria and Romania for all the efforts they have produced in order to fulfil the conditions for accession to the European Union."

Enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said that reforms had "peaked" especially in the last three to four months after Brussels had refused to be clear on the accession date of both the EU hopefuls in a May report.

But he also said "the commission's assessment [of Romania and Bulgaria] is based on an even more rigorous system of conditionality than the one in the past," introducing the toughest-ever monitoring regime any new EU member has ever faced after accession.

March report looms

The commission report includes a full to-do list with concrete "benchmarks" for both Romania and Bulgaria.

Both countries need to demonstrate progress in the most problematic areas – reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption – in a fresh report three months after accession on 31 March 2007.

Sofia received the worst grades on sleaze and crime, with the report stating that "there have been few concrete examples of investigations or prosecution or charges of high level corruption" and "the number of cases prosecuted successfully related to organised crime is still low."

Bucharest did somewhat better but needs to demonstrate "clear political will" to make sure progress is irreversible.

"Should either country fail to address the benchmarks adequately, the commission will apply the safeguard measures of the accession treaty," the report says referring to a possible non-recognition of Bulgarian and Romanian court verdicts by other member states.

Aviation safety

The report also threatens both EU hopefuls with a temporary 25 percent cut of agricultural handouts from Brussels if they fail to set up properly functioning paying agencies with trained staff and good computers.

There is a "real risk" that the payments agencies will not be working by the time of accession in both states, according to the report which adds the situation will be monitored throughout next year.

On top of this, the commission threatens to take "measures to ensure that no risk materials enter the [EU] internal market" from Bulgaria and Romania if they do not deal with food safety concerns such as swine fever.

A final blow to Bulgaria in Tuesday's report is the fact that backlogs in the particularly sensitive area of aviation safety were also highlighted – something that had not figured as "red flag" area in earlier reports.

The European Aviation Safety Agency has refused to clear Bulgaria's record on airworthiness, maintenance, operations and flight crew licensing.

"Unless Bulgaria takes the necessary corrective actions, it risks that the commission...may restrict access to the [EU] internal aviation market," the report says.

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