ECONOMY

Romania set to push for entry date at this month’s EU meeting

SOFIA – Romania said yesterday it would push the European Union to give it a date for entry at a meeting of EU leaders in June, months earlier than planned, and urged fellow candidate Bulgaria to follow its lead in fighting crime. The EU’s executive Commission delayed a recommendation in a report earlier this month on whether the Black Sea duo should join next year or in 2008. It has given them until October to prove they are ready but Romanian Justice Minister Monica Macovei said Bucharest would be looking for a green light months earlier. «At the European Council in June (15-16), we will try to receive a clear date,» Macovei told reporters on a visit in Sofia. «I see no reason why Bulgaria would not like the same.» In its report on May 16, Brussels rapped Romania on mainly technical issues, saying it had yet to set up compatible tax-collection computer systems, raise food hygiene standards or establish a system to disburse EU regional and farm aid. But it was more harsh on Bulgaria, saying the country had only rarely indicted or convicted serious criminals and it could delay entry by a year if the problem remained unsolved. Bulgarian authorities have since stepped up efforts to weed out corrupt officials and crack down on crime and pledged to consult the Commission on a plan to fix the problems. Speaking alongside Macovei, Bulgaria’s justice and EU ministers said another move would include implementing the random distribution of court cases – to prevent criminals from being tried by sympathetic judges – by the end of June. «The first part of our contribution (for the EU’s final verdict) will be given at the end of July. That means we have very little time,» EU Affairs Minister Meglena Kuneva said. Neighborly advice But analysts and diplomats have complained of too much talk and too few concrete results in the ex-communist country of 7.7 million and say politicians appear to lack the political will to bring criminals to justice. Police blame powerful underworld barons – who diplomats say control huge swathes of Bulgaria’s tourism, financial and other sectors – for more than 150 contract killings since 2001. None has been convicted for the murders. Politicians and officials in state-owned institutions have also been accused of stealing tens of millions of euros in corrupt deals, but few have been formally charged. Pointing to recent success in Romania, where prosecutors have charged top officials, including former prime minister Adrian Nastase, Macovei said the way ahead was obvious. «Things are not so complicated. If you want to do it, then you do it,» she said. «You do not need a big strategy… you need a group of competent and independent prosecutors and police and let them freely investigate anyone, any case, any politician.» Macovei said Bucharest would prefer to see the EU’s final report in September, rather than a month later as planned, to give members like Germany and France more time to ratify the accession treaty. «There are member states which will ratify only after the report. It is in the interest of both countries (Romania and Bulgaria) for those states that have not yet ratified to have more time,» she said. «That’s why I think both countries should hurry to carry out the things they still have to do in the summer months.»