Though granted a date to sign the accession treaty and become a member of Europe’s most exclusive club, the EU has left a back door open in case Romania doesn’t fulfill all the bloc's entry criteria.
President Traian Basescu wants to lead Romania to the EU in 2007
Recently elected president Traian Basescu has plenty of work to do if he wants to keep his election promise of leading Romania to European Union membership in 2007. The former mayor of Bucharest campaigned on a plank of prosecuting corruption, one of the EU’s chief concerns regarding the Eastern European country.
Recognizing that it is the country's biggest problem and affects both the political system and the fledgling market economy, Basescu said he would go after the causes of corruption by firing civil servants involved in fraud and restructuring the institutions that investigate and prosecute such grievances.
The EU wants to see more done to fight corruption
"There are real problems of high level corruption in Romania and this is an area where the new government needs to act firmly," said Jonathan Scheele, head of the European Commission's delegation in Romania.
Two years left and a lot of work
Romania began its negotiations with the EU in February 2000 and with last week’s agreement concerning a date to sign an accession treaty, the country is on its way to being part of the European club’s fifth expansion in 2007. But Romania will also have to focus on more than just fighting corruption if it plans to keep on track to join the EU in 2007.
Fifteen years after the collapse of the Ceausescu dictatorship, the country still has a ways to go to bring it in line with the rest of the European Union. It needs to continue pushing through judiciary and legislative reforms and work more effectively to stop human trafficking, for instance.
Romania's parliament in Bucharest
Bucharest also has to convince Brussels that it is actively applying the new reforms. Laws stopping the discrimination of the Roma are already on the books, for example, but the EU has called for the Romanian government to do more than pay them lip service and actually put an end to the de facto discrimination against the minority that comprises 2.4 percent of Romania's population.
To make sure Romania, like fellow EU aspirant Bulgaria, follows through implementing their revamped legislation, their accession treaties include a "safeguard clause" -- a type of accession emergency brake the EU executive can pull to slow down membership by one year should any serious shortcomings come to light.
"We have problems at the level of public administration, justice, freedom of the press, lack of competition on the market," Calin Tariceany, a possible choice for prime minister told Reuters, addressing some of the key issues the EU wants cleared up before Romania can be welcomed into the fold of 25.
“The European Commission will continue to monitor closely developments in Romania,” Scheele said. Accession is not an automatic guarantee just because the negotiations have proceeded so far.
EU-Romanian trade increasing
On the more positive side, trade between Romania and the EU has increased noticeably in the last few years. European Union members received 67.7 percent or €11.2 billion ($14.9 billion) worth of Romania's exports in 2003, an increase of eight percent and contributed 57.6 percent of Romania's imports, bringing the bloc €12.8 billion, which was 11.5 percent more than 2002.
"Romania is a functioning market economy," Scheele said. "But its economy does not yet have sufficient strength to withstand the competitive pressures of the single market."
Sinti and Roma scrap metal collectors use a horse-drawn carriage to transport an old car through the streets of Bucharest.
By 2007 Romania will have received about €5 billion in aid or 1.4 percent of its gross domestic product from the EU during its seven-year path from negotiation to member status. The funding was used to improve government institutions, revamp the country's infrastructure and diversify rural economies.
Those improvements, however, have not necessarily trickled down to the public. The average Romanian income is 30 percent that of other EU citizens and subject to huge discrepancies throughout the country: People living in Bucharest have 140 percent higher incomes than those in rural areas.
But the country's unemployment rate has remained stable at 6.6 percent, considerably better than in some more wealthy western European states. And the chance of business and industry relocating to Romania from countries further west once it becomes a part of the EU could mean even brighter job prospects on the horizon.
Upbeat over EU
Despite the long-haul ahead, Romanians remain upbeat about entering the EU. Some 76 percent of the 21.7 million population claim to have a “very positive” or “fairly positive” view of the EU, making Romania the most EU-happy of all the member states and accession candidates.
This article originally appeared at DW-WORLD on Dec. 17, 2004.