Work harder for entry

SOFIA (Reuters) – The EU will sharply warn Bulgaria to work harder in three areas in a final evaluation of the entry candidate next month, but the report should hold no surprises, the Balkan state’s integration minister said yesterday. Bulgaria closed entry talks with the union in June, well ahead of its slower-moving enlargement partner Romania, and analysts expect the October 6 report to confirm the country of 8 million people is ready for membership in 2007. But Integration Minister Meglena Kuneva said the bloc’s executive body, the European Commission, would still rap Bulgaria on points where it was lagging on reforms. «Three of the chapters Bulgaria has closed have prompted a very serious warning that they may be closely monitored by the European Commission,» Kuneva told a news conference. «These are justice and home affairs, transport, and competition… The criticism will not be a surprise.» In transport, Bulgaria needs to improve maritime safety, as a growing number of Bulgarian-flagged ships have been stopped in foreign ports for not meeting regulations, she said. On competition, the government must show it is implementing a law on state aid that prevents giving unfair advantages to firms by offering them state guarantees on loans or other perks. Kuneva said the government must push through several constitutional amendments, including one on justice reform, by early next year in order to sign an entry treaty with the bloc’s member states shortly after. She added that if the report was globally positive – as most observers expect it to be – the European Council should give Bulgaria the green light for membership at the year’s end. «If we want to sign the treaty by April or May, then by March we should have concluded with the amendments to the constitution,» she said. «If we win with the regular report, we will win with the European Council in December.»

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