Sofia irked after ‘Euroslap’

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The Bulgarian government has reacted sharply to reproaches by the Commission of having made only limited progress on the country’s way to EU accession.

Reform of the judiciary system: Commissioner Rehn says progress is “limited” and new amendments to the constitution “leave certain ambiguities regarding guarantees on the independence of the judiciary”. Overall, ” the balance sheet of Bulgaria’s judiciary reform is not yet satisfactory”. 

Fight against corruption: “Needs to be addressed much more vigorously”, according to Commissioner Rehn, even though “first steps” have been taken. In particular, “tangible results of investigations with concrete outcomes” are still missing. 

Fight against organised crime: Similarly, reforms of structures have so far failed to result in a sufficient number of “investigations and prosecutions”. 

Trafficking in human beings: “Remains a problem for Bulgaria,” the Commissioner says. He recommends stepping up witness protection in order to become more efficient here. 

Schengen: The action plan and the integrated border management strategy that Bulgaria has implemented “need now to be put into practice”, Commissioner Rehn says. 

Integration of minorities; in particular of Roma: “Bulgaria needs to speed up efforts”. 

Protection of intellectual property rights: Both Romania and Bulgaria have made efforts in combating so-called piracy, but these need to be sustained, Commissioner Rehn says. 

Veterinary issues: Bulgaria still has not enough inspection posts, the Commissioner says. 

The Commissioner seemed to be happy with progress made by Bulgaria in public administration reform and with agencies set up to organise the distribution of EU support for agriculture and of structural funds

 

Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said postponing his country's entry to the EU would embolden those who opposed democracy and send the wrong signal to countries in the western Balkans who hope to join next decade. "It would be a grave political mistake," Stanishev said. "In the long-term, this will create more problems in the EU than if Bulgaria is accepted immediately, because we will be a good and active member." 

"Sofia gets Euroslap!" read a headline in the Bulgarian daily newspaper 
Trud

A commentary in the Bulgarian paper 
Dnevnik
read: "It's clear the government has failed."

Commissioner Rehn said in his concluding remarks: "In both accession scenarios – 2007 and 2008 – the Commission will examine whether corrective action, such as safeguards, will be needed to remedy possible deficiencies that may persist after accession. As the guardian of the treaties, the Commission will not hesitate to activate these mechanisms where necessary. They can be mostly invoked, if need be, by a Commission decision."
"We will in any case re-examine the situation of [Bulgaria and Romania] this autumn in our next monitoring reports to Parliament and Council. In the event of a 2007 accession for one or two countries, we would then address more precisely any possible corrective action that may be needed as of January 2007 in order to ensure sound accession."
"As you can yourself conclude, the jury is still out. For both countries the 2007 target date is still doable, but it requires a completion of the reforms and their implementation. While safeguard clauses can provide remedies in certain sectors, it is the judiciary reform and fight against corruption and crime that are the critical yardsticks. The rule of law underpins the functioning of the whole society and economy; thus it is of fundamental importance for EU accession."

Addressing the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee on 4 April 2006, Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn found much more positive words for reforms implemented in Romania than for progress made in Bulgaria. Both countries could join the EU on 1 January 2007 if they are considered to be ready. If such is not the case, their accession may be delayed by one year. 

Commissioner Rehn's words are considered to be echoing findings of the monitoring reports on Romania's and Bulgaria's progress on the way EU accession, which will be published in six weeks time. 

The Commission will present its next monitoring reports on Bulgaria's and Romania's preparedness to Parliament and Council on 16 May 2006.

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