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Bulgaria and Romania to join EU in 2007
 

Romania and Bulgaria are set to be given the green light to join the EU next year, though restrictions may be imposed amid fears about widespread corruption.

Olli Rehn, Europe's enlargement commissioner, is expected to recommend in a report next month that they should join as planned on January 1 2007. But a "safeguard clause" may be invoked to exclude Bulgaria from full participation in justice and home affairs because of concerns that Sofia is failing to tackle corruption. Such a move would mean the EU could refuse to recognise Bulgarian verdicts until the judiciary had been fully reformed.

Mr Rehn told MEPs last night that the jury "is still out" on whether the two countries will join on target. "For both countries the 2007 target date is still doable, but it requires a completion of the reforms and their implementation."

He has particular concerns about Bulgaria. "All in all, the balance sheet of Bulgaria's judiciary reform is not yet satisfactory."

But EU diplomats are sure Mr Rehn will recommend that Romania and Bulgaria be allowed in next year, subject to some restrictions. One ambassador in Brussels said most countries accept that the EU would probably inflict more damage by carrying out the threat to delay membership until 2008. "Keeping Romania and Bulgaria out for another year would probably make no difference and might even set back the reform programme."

German officials quoted in yesterday's edition of Die Welt said the commission was overcoming its scepticism that the countries would be ready to join next year. EU membership will set the stage for thousands of Romanians and Bulgarians to seek jobs in Britain, although the government could impose restrictions.

Mr Rehn yesterday described EU enlargement "as an extraordinary example of soft power", arguing in the FT that the prospect of EU membership had helped stabilise the former Yugoslavia.