Bulgaria seen right on track for 2007 EU entry

SOFIA (Reuters) – The European Commission’s ambassador to Sofia said yesterday that Bulgaria’s record in tackling its obligations for EU entry indicated there was little chance it would cause a delay in the process. There is some concern in Sofia and Romania, both on track to join the European Union in 2007, that EU members could employ a «safeguard clause» which will delay entry for up to a year should the members feel the two countries are dragging their feet on vital political and economic reforms. European Commission Ambassador Dimitris Kourkoulas moved to allay those concerns yesterday by indicating there was little chance Bulgaria would trigger the safeguard clause. «Given the good record of Bulgaria in the last eight years, I have confidence that they will do their homework, which would mean there will not even be the need for a discussion of the safeguard clause,» Kourkoulas told Reuters. The European Commission said earlier this month that Bulgaria and its slower-moving neighbor Romania would be fit to join the bloc on time if they continue to implement EU norms. Bulgaria finished entry talks in June and is now waiting for Romania to wrap up its last four negotiating points, perhaps by year-end, so the two can sign a joint entry pact in 2005. They missed out on the Union’s expansion into ex-communist Europe in May, mainly because their impoverished economies lag far behind those of the Union’s 10 newest members. Kourkoulas would not comment on Romania’s efforts, but Sofia is rife with anxiety that its neighbor’s slow progress may delay Bulgarian membership, even though Brussels has said the countries will be judged separately on their own merits. The Commission has praised Bulgaria for overhauling its Soviet-style economy, but also leveled harsh criticism at its inability to make progress in the fight against rampant graft and organized crime.