The two EU candidate countries, Romania and Bulgaria, slated to join the 25-member bloc on January 1, 2007 are on the right track with reforms, but still have a lot to do in a short time, the director of the Enlargement Directorate General at the European Commission, Timo Summa, said last week. Speaking with New Europe at the sidelines of the meeting in Athens entitled: “Greece, Bulgaria and Romania: Business & Investment Summit – Strengthening Relations at the Threshold of EU Accession,” Summa said that as the two countries’ starting point for accession was “not that good,” the process has been very demanding and “they have a lot to do in a very short time…This is the challenge for the Commission and also for the governments.”
The states’ main challenge Summa pointed to was not only reforming the judiciary systems and administrative capacity, but also reforming the mindset. He said improvements in Romania and Bulgaria have been quite good, but they must go hand-in-hand with a change in mentality. “It’s not only that they can have new laws (and) they can work on the administrative capacity … but it is also to change the political culture and the mindset,” the director said.
Both Romanian and Bulgarian integration ministers, addressing the council of international businessmen and journalists at the meeting, stressed recent improvements in their judiciary sectors, such as the introduction of new laws and the separation of the state and legal sector. Romanian Minister of European Integration Anca Boagiu pointed out that strong legislation is the “key to success,” while her Bulgarian counterpart, Meglena Kuneva, stressed the importance of public awareness and cited her country’s recent success in creating easier procedures in the judiciary sector.
Summa reiterated the importance of strong independent institutions. If all goes well and Romania and Bulgaria join the Union as planned, it will not initially be a dramatic shift as “they participate in all European structures already: all the programmes, all the instruments.” For example, Bulgaria has made waves towards the EU recently with output growth rising to 5.6 percent in the first quarter of 2006 and unemployment decreasing to 9.6 percent in May 2006, the Bulgarian delegation cited.
The enlargement director seemed upbeat on the countries’ EU ticket. He explained that the requirements for EU accession have been tougher on the two candidates than on the last 10 newcomers in 2004. “Romania and Bulgaria have both been under very tight scrutiny and it is fair to say, tighter than the previous countries, so the criteria are exactly the same, but now we have really digged very deeply in all policy sectors,” Summa said. “So, it is very demanding for them. It’s very demanding for us. But, I think that’s the best what we can do for the countries’ reform and also the best we can do for this political climate in Europe,” he added.
If accession goes through, “the big change of course is only that they become more independent in managing their handling of European funds,” Summa explained. Both the Romanian and Bulgarian delegations explained they have been working in close cooperation with the Commission in following out the proper reforms required by the EU. However, Summa said, after admission, the two will need the administrative capacity to properly manage EU funds.
And when asked if the two candidates currently have the proper capacity in line, Summa replied: “No, at the moment they don’t. They are not ready yet at the moment.”