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Green Lights for Balkan Trio

While debate still focuses on Turkey, EU Commission chief Jose Barroso said he is confident the bloc will agree to a date for Romania and Bulgaria to sign accession treaties and for Croatia to start entry talks.


All in favor of more EU members?

The head of the EU executive voiced his optimism for the Balkan trio at the start of the Brussels summit on Thursday, which has been largely dominated by debate on Turkey’s bid to start negotiations on joining the 25-member bloc. Compared to the heated rhetoric over Turkey, discussion of the three former Eastern European countries has been fairly muted.

Nevertheless, the general assessment has been positive, particularly for Bulgaria, and to a lesser degree Romania. Croatia is still a ways behind its more northern neighbors and is awaiting a green light from Brussels to begin accession talks.

“I’m confident that the EU leaders will approve the accession negotiations and set a date for the signing of the accession treaties in the first half of 2005,” Barroso said of Bulgaria and Romania, which are on track to join the EU in 2007.

“The same goes for Croatia, as I assume a date for agreement can be reached on when the accession negotiations should begin,” he added of the Balkan country, provided it agrees to cooperate with the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal.

The EU has been pressing Zagreb to work together with the Hague-based tribunal in the arresting of fugitive war criminals from former Yugoslavia. “The commission believes it is essential that Croatia should cooperate with the Hague court,” Barroso told reporters on Thursday.

Rocky start for Romania

Whereas Bulgaria already completed its accession talks in June, Romania has lagged further behind, only just getting Brussels approval last week. A certain amount of uncertainty still surrounds the country’s track record and its ability to push through all the necessary reforms by 2007.

The EU Commission has set up a strict monitoring process to keep an eye on Bucharest’s progress in judicial reform, border protection, environmental cleaup, fighting corruption and ending illegal state aid to industry.

The European Parliament also expressed concerns over Romania. “Corruption remains a serious worry … especially high-level corruption. European Parliament members also expressed their alarm at continuing reports on cases of ill-treatment at police stations, prisons and mental hospitals,” the assembly said in a resolution adopted Thursday.

Given such concerns, the European Union has left open a back door -- an accession emergency brake of sorts -- allowing it to halt the process if it feels a candidate country, is dragging its feet on reforms. The accession entry date is by no means a guarantee, officials in Brussels stress, with an eye to Romania, Croatia and Turkey.

Historic moment

Despite such remarks, the EU summit will be a historic moment for Romania and Bulgaria, bringing them to the threshold of one of the world’s biggest economies, with its promise of prosperity, security and the flowing of billions of euros in development aid to build roads, create jobs and clean up the environment.

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