BUCHAREST – Romania said yesterday it expects to finally win the crucial «market economy» status from the European Union in October, a necessary step for the Balkan country to join the bloc in 2007. The European Commission stopped short of granting ex-communist Romania the «functioning market economy» title in its report last year due to concerns it was not yet ready to compete in the wealthy bloc’s market environment. «My expectation is that this time we will succeed,» Romania’s chief EU negotiator Vasile Puscas told Reuters in an interview. «Economic stability is improving and the mechanisms of a functioning market economy are in place and are working.» Newly passed legislation boosting competition, dealing with inter-company debt as well as faster restructuring in the energy sector should make the difference when the Commission issues the next update on Romania in October, he said. Romania and Bulgaria missed the first wave of the EU’s eastward expansion in May and hope to join in 2007. But while Sofia has completed entry talks, Bucharest still has five out or 30 negotiating chapters to close. Puscas said Romania will be ready to end negotiations, including the thorny energy and justice and home affairs chapters, by October or the end of the year at worst. Unlike its smaller southern neighbor, Romania has been harshly criticized by the EU for slow reforms and persistent corruption – a scourge affecting all walks of life in the impoverished country of 22 million people. After EU warnings in February, reform efforts have picked up pace and Puscas said almost all legislation needed was ready. «Romania and Romanian citizens need the rule of law and the EU has accelerated the process of implementing the rule of law,» he said. The toughest task during the EU negotiations is not dealing with demands from Brussels but getting politicians and local organizations to understand the need to apply EU-prescribed reforms on the ground, he said. «Accession is a domestic issue, it depends on internal preparation; 80 percent of our negotiating work has been with local groups,» Puscas said. He said campaigning ahead of general polls in November was unlikely to disrupt Romania’s work on EU-related reforms because the ruling Social Democrats and the opposition centrist alliance are equally committed to winning the 2007 entry date.