Leading article: A timorous welcome to the EU's next members

Share
Related Topics

The European Commission had a delicate path to negotiate when it came to yesterday's pronouncement on the accession of Bulgaria and Romania. Too negative an assessment would have risked provoking resentment and charges of double standards. At worst, one or other country, or both, might simply have decided that there was no point in continuing to reform.

Too positive an assessment, however, would have raised serious questions about the value of setting qualifications for membership at all. Was the EU so set on enlargement that it was prepared to turn a blind eye to endemic corruption, crooked judges and rampant organised crime? And what would be the effect on the European Union as a whole if it admitted two countries that were patently not ready?

In the event, the Commission managed, just, to avoid both these perils by the time-honoured mechanism of delay. Romania and Bulgaria were told that they are on course for full membership, as planned, at the start of next year. But they have both been set specific goals that they must attain in time for an additional review in October. Romania, contrary to expectations, has less far to go than Bulgaria: its shortcomings are largely technical, relating to agriculture and taxation.

Bulgaria has six areas to be tackled, which include fully implementing laws on corruption and money-laundering and showing that it can exercise proper control over EU funds. To address all these issues in a matter of months would be a tall order for any government. It is hard to see how Bulgaria will meet all the conditions without superhuman effort on the part of the Sofia government. To postpone Bulgaria's accession until 2008, however, might discourage further reform.

In the end, it looks likely that both Romania and Bulgaria will be spurred to meet more of their EU obligations, while being admitted to full membership on 1 January 2007. In an ideal world, the EU should have had more leverage. That it does not largely reflects its own questionable judgement in promising admission in 2008 at the very latest. The additional review in October is the best solution in the circumstances.

In one respect, Bulgaria and Romania have been unlucky. By missing the last major enlargement, which brought the Baltic States and most former members of the defunct Warsaw Pact into the European Union, Romania and Bulgaria found themselves at a disadvantage. While it was rightly judged that they would need more time to meet EU conditions than, for instance, the Baltic States, they were not able to ride the wave of euphoria that followed the end of the Cold War. They might justifiably complain that more attention has been paid to the detail of their applications than to those of some of the countries that preceded them.

It was their misfortune, too, that their accession process straddled the failed referendums on the draft EU constitution in France and the Netherlands. The soul-searching these "No" votes precipitated, and the popular reservations about the whole European project they exposed, have made the climate for further enlargement less propitious than it should have been.

All that said, enlargement has been one of the European Union's great unsung successes. And the desire for membership has brought about thoroughly positive changes in the applicant countries, often in a remarkably short period of time. Bulgaria and Romania are no exception. The EU may be going through a period of self-doubt and its mood may seem recalcitrant. But it has a duty to honour its promises, as Bulgaria and Romania have a duty to honour theirs. On 1 January, 2007, or shortly thereafter, the EU will be a union of 27.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Our representatives must represent us

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
MP David Lammy would become the capital’s first black mayor if he won the 2016 Mayoral election  

Crime, punishment and morals: we’re entering a maze with no clear exit

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot