Union welcomes Romania and Bulgaria

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1 January 2007 witnessed celebrations as Romania and Bulgaria marked their EU entry, but the two countries still face economic and border-control challenges.

This fifth round of enlargement adds some 30 million people to the EU. The Union now comprises 27 member states and 490 million citizens.

Compared with EU standards, the two countries are still relatively poor, with a GDP at 33% of the EU average. Salaries are also low, with an average monthly income of €180 in Bulgaria and around €300 in Romania. Nevertheless, economic prospects are good as Bulgaria looks back on a growth rate of 5.5% of GDP in 2006 – Romania’s growth in 2006 amounted to 7% of GDP. 

Nevertheless, more progress is expected from the two countries. Bulgaria had to close down four of the six reactors in its Kozluduj power plant to comply with EU safety regulations. 

The two member states also had to bring their border-control systems up to EU standards. While Romania had adapted to the new rules earlier, Bulgaria had to make substantial efforts to open up borders to travellers from EU countries.

Fears of a new wave of labour immigration spread in parts of the EU-25, such as the United Kingdom, which has put restrictions in place. Other countries, such as Sweden and Finland, decided not to restrict the free movement of labour. Bulgarian and Romanian officials claim that the largest part of labour migration has already taken place.

Romania's President Traian Basescu said: "We arrived in Europe, welcome to Europe. He added that his country's accession was an "enormous chance for new generations". 

His Bulgarian counterpart Georgi Paranov called his country's accession a "heavenly moment" at celebrations in Sofia on New Year's Eve. He added that "this day will find its place among the most important dates in our national history".

Commission President José Manuel Barroso, who joined the celebrations, congratulated the people and leaders of Bulgaria and Romania for the "courage, determination and work in preparing for membership".

Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said: "EU accession will bring concrete improvements to the everyday life of citizens, such as safer food, cleaner environment and better roads."

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: "With their accession to the European Union, these two countries have completed their 'return' to Europe, which commenced with the fall of the Iron Curtain. This is a joyful occasion for Bulgaria and Romania, and for us all in their 25 EU partner countries."

The European SME employers' organisation UEAPME welcomed the new member states. Luc Hendrickx, UEAPME director for enterprise policy and external relations, said: "Bulgaria and Romania can be a real added-value for the European Union as a whole." He added: "However, small businesses in both countries need proper assistance in order to fully express their potential."

Bulgaria and Romania applied for EU membership in 1995 and began accession negotiations in 2000, which were successfully concluded in 2004.

The last monitoring report on Bulgaria and Romania demanded further efforts, but concluded that both countries were fit to join the Union in 2007.

  • The EU will continue to monitor the two new member states. Ahead of Bulgaria’s accession the Commission issued a warning to Bulgaria concerning food standards and aviation safety.

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