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Tuesday, October 05, 2004
EU to Applaud Romania's Economy, Criticize Rights
Mon Oct 4, 2004 02:51 PM ET
By Dina Kyriakidou and Marcin Grajewski
BUCHAREST/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A keenly awaited European Union report will reaffirm the aim of Romania joining the bloc in 2007 but will express concern over media freedom and graft in the poor Balkan country, officials said on Monday.
The EU executive Commission's report will be critical and will propose a "safeguard clause" that could delay Romania's entry by one year if it falls behind the schedule of overhauling its corruption-plagued economy and weak administration.
Incoming Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn warned Romania against complacency even if it wraps up entry talks this year and signs the accession treaty next year along with neighboring Bulgaria, which is seen as better prepared for membership.
"The safeguard clause is a very serious instrument and we will not hesitate to use it," Rehn said during his confirmation hearing at the European Parliament.
EU criticisms were backed up by an opinion poll showing that 55 percent of Romanians think corruption in the Balkan country has worsened over the past year.
Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and his foreign minister, Mircea Geoana, visited Brussels in a last-ditch effort to minimize the criticism in the report, the exact wording of which could still be changed before publication on Wednesday.
"From what I heard in Brussels the report should contain a positive evaluation for us, although clearly a lot remains to be done," Nastase told a news conference in the EU Parliament.
Geoana, who is the ruling Socialists' candidate for prime minister after Nov. 28 general elections, vowed to fight graft, strengthen the country's weak administration and courts and pursue responsible fiscal policies.
"We want to join the EU in 2007 and I would like to be the guarantor that this will happen," he told Reuters.
The Commission paper on Romania's progress toward joining the 25-member bloc will praise the country for stabilizing the economy -- cutting inflation and boosting growth -- while expressing concern over news media rights and corruption.
"I do not hide that we have problems with corruption ... I commit myself to strengthening our administration as we need public service that is motivated and less corruptible," said Geoana, a 56-year-old former ambassador to Washington.
EU officials expect the report on Bulgaria, also due to be published on Wednesday, to be more positive as Sofia had already concluded accession talks.
Geoana said he was confident Romania would sign the accession treaty next year at the same time as Bulgaria, but the EU's Rehn warned there was no such guarantee.
"We will judge every country on its own merits," he said.
Geoana said Romania should finally receive the "functioning market economy" tag, a key economic criterion for membership, though the report will fall short of declaring the country fit to compete in the EU market.
About 20 journalists, mostly investigating corruption cases, have been physically attacked in Romania in the last 18 months but no culprits have been brought to justice.
The watchdog Transparency International has rated Romania as one of the most corrupt ex-communist countries almost 15 years after the 1989 collapse of communism.
The new political and business elite flaunts its wealth, driving luxury cars and building mansions while about 30 percent of the people live in poverty, according to World Bank data.
Posted by Mihai Botea : 10/05/2004 04:13:00 pm
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