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10th Dec 2022

Two newest EU states welcomed amid unease on safeguards

EU foreign ministers have formally endorsed the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the bloc in 2007 – but the slow entry preparations of the two countries has prompted the EU to draw lessons for future enlargements of the bloc.

The ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday (17 October) rubber-stamped the European Commission's recommendation that the countries join in January rather than making use of a one-year postponement clause.

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  • With further enlargement looming, the EU is re-thinking its strategy (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

"The Council [of ministers] welcomes the Commission's report which concludes that Bulgaria and Romania, based on the progress made, will be in a position to take on the rights and obligations of membership on 1 January 2007," a statement said.

Ministers also supported the commission in imposing a tough system of monitoring on Romania and Bulgaria even after their accession, designed to make sure that the two newest members of the club do enough to fight crime and corruption.

If further problems with sleaze and crime damage the rest of the EU, the commission could impose sanctions on Bucharest or Sofia, such as the possible non-recognition of Bulgarian and Romanian court verdicts, until up to three years after accession.

Similar post-accession provisions - including possible sanctions - are foreseen in the problematic areas of food safety, the management EU agricultural funds and aviation security.

"The Council supports the mechanism to be set up for cooperation and verification of the progress in the area of judicial reform and the fight against organised crime and corruption, including, if necessary and appropriate, the possibility to impose safeguards," ministers said.

Lessons for the future

But the commission, member states and members of the European Parliament are not happy with the raft of safeguard measures put on Romania and Bulgaria, with Dutch Green MEP Joost Lagendijk recently saying they actually show the two states are "not ready" for accession.

Brussels circles now widely condemn the fact that as early as spring 2005, the two countries were promised EU membership in 2007 – with a possible postponement of one year – although at that time they still had to tackle a raft of judiciary and corruption problems.

"One of the main lessons from the accession of Romania and Bulgaria is that we have to tackle key issues at an earlier stage," said the commission's director-general on enlargement Michael Leigh on Tuesday, referring to problems such as corruption and organized crime.

Ahead of a key commission report on enlargement policy on 8 November, he said that "we are going to tackle these issues much earlier in the future."

Enlargement 'success'

Mr Leigh spoke at a Brussels event where consultancy firm Burston Marsteller launched a report praising the union's previous enlargement with 10 new states in 2004.

The report describes enlargement as a success story, saying that despite doomsday scenarios "decision-making has not broken down, nor become fundamentally divisive around an East-West fault-line."

It hails the economic record of the EU's 10 new members, while also noting that they brought in foreign affairs experience on the East which "the EU simply did not possess."

But the report also cites day-to-day working difficulties between "old" and "new" EU officials, with western European officials making patronizing remarks such as "most of them don't know what they are doing yet, but at least they don't cause us too much trouble."

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