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Europe

Reservations Persist in Brussels About New Members

With just seven weeks to go before the European Union expands by ten countries, the EU Parliament debated a report card on new members and their progress.

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The report said new members Hungary and Slovakia must do more for Roma gypsies.

Prepared by Elmar Brok, a German member of the European Parliament, the report says that while the new member states are all ready to join the EU, problems with corruption and protection of minority rights remain.

Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Cyprus, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic will join the EU on May 1, 2004. It marks the largest expansion in EU history and will significantly increase the size and economic weight of the EU on the world stage.

Wednesday's debate offered a sort of check-in on the countries, just a few weeks before they officially join the EU membership list. Brok said there were serious deficits, especially in the former Soviet bloc countries, but remained optimistic.

"We know that from (integrating) the new East German states," he said. "There are still problems, even though they had the support of West Germany. We see how big the problem is."

Corruption and "social malaise"

Poland, which has been accused of demanding too much as it joins the European Union, seems to have the most work to do, according to the report.

Corruption in the biggest of the new member states is "undermining the prestige of the political community and leading to considerable social malaise," according to the report. Brok's report went on to say that the judicial system needed additional improvements in order to combat the problem.

Poland by far is not the only country battling the problem. In the Czech Republic, a former state secretary in the foreign ministry is on trial for allegedly ordering a hit against a journalist who uncovered scandal in his department. The Lithuanian government is on the brink of collapse after an investigation showed the country's president had abused the constitution to rig a Visa for a friend of his.

Neighboring Lavtia's coalition government resigned last Fall over corruption allegations.

Low-level corruption is one thing, said Brok, but often "it goes up to the highest rungs."

The report also criticized countries like Slovakia and Hungary for not doing enough to fight discrimination and injustices against their Roma gypsy populations. There are an estimated 1 million Romas who will become EU citizens on May 1.

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