Romania and Bulgaria greeted Tuesday an EU report on their eventual membership of the 25-nation bloc as fair, even though it called on both countries to push ahead with reforms and threatened both with accession delays.
The Romanian and Bulgarian flags may have to wait before joining
Romanian President Traian Basescu told reporters the report was "objective and demanding." He said it "gives Romania the chance to join the EU on January 1, 2007."
"The report should not lead us to rejoicing or sadness. We must remain vigilant, ready to meet what is required for joining in 2007," Basescu said.
He said Romania would "feel the benefits of joining the EU only when it is a full member" and that "up until this moment Romanians must pay the price of joining."
Basescu called on legal officials and police to fight corruption, as the EU demands. He said they should have "zero tolerance" for corruption.
Ivaylo Kalfin assured the EU that Bulgaria would do what was needed.
In Sofia, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivaylo Kalfin said: "Both countries fully understand our responsibility in the months left ahead of our accession into the EU. We accept the report as a partner's assessment and will fully focus on implementing what has been negotiated," Kalfin said.
Progress needed to ensure accession
The two former communist states are on track to join the EU as planned in 2007, the EU's executive announced on Tuesday, but warned the eastern European states to make further progress on reforms.
The two Balkan states are doing too little to fight corruption, the European Commission said, in annual progress reports on their EU membership suitability, amid speculation that their entry could be delayed by a year.
The reports stated that there were "serious concerns" in areas accounting for around ten percent of EU legislation, where "unless immediate action is taken the countries will not be ready for accession".
Brussels is also concerned about administrative capacity, where the commission said "overall reform of administrative structures" needs to be stepped up in order for both Romania and Bulgaria to be able to absorb EU funds.
Other areas which needed to be addressed were the shortcomings in the veterinary field, which may "put at risk food safety" in the EU, and the level of corruption in the two countries "particularly at a high level".
Commission threatens year-long delays
Olli Rehn said the EU would not hesitate to implement delays.
Before the talks, European enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said the commission would not hesitate to delay the scheduled accession if reform efforts in the key areas fail.
Romania and Bulgaria signed their accession treaties on April 25 this year, but these treaties contain a unique clause which gives the European Commission the option to delay the 2007 entry date until 2008 if entry preparations are insufficient.
Rehn added that Brussels would "not hesitate" to make use of the option in its recommendation on the entry date to EU member states. "We may recommend, if needed, to postpone accession by one year", he said. "The possibility of being ready in 2007 is not lost, but making it will require a lot of work.”
The commission is due to meet to discuss the two countries’ entry date in May or April next year.
Bulgaria slips from lead in race with neighbor
Traian Basescu's Romania has "caught up impressively."
These warnings, known in accession speak as "yellow cards", come as a particular blow to Bulgaria. It has been widely accepted that the Bulgarians have always been ahead of their neighbor Romania in their EU preparation, but a close general election result in June plunged the country in a reform deadlock.
The commission said that Bulgaria was "working energetically" after it had "lost the momentum somewhat", but it was Romania who had "caught up impressively", particularly in the areas of competition policy, justice, state aid and overall alignment with EU law.