European Parliament approves accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005 File:European Parliament in Strassburg.jpg

The European Parliament in Strasbourg approved the signing of the Accession Treaties for Romania and Bulgaria, paving the way for their accession to the EU in 2007
(Image missing from Commons: image; log)

The European Parliament has today approved the signing of the Accession Treaties of Romania and Bulgaria, effectively endorsing their accession to the European Union. The parliament voted on the Romanian Accession Treaty with 497 positive votes, 93 negative votes and 71 abstentions. Bulgaria received a slightly more positive message, with 522 votes in favour of its Accession Treaty, 70 negative votes and 69 abstentions.

After this vote, which was legally-binding, the two countries will sign their Accession Treaties on April 25, when they will move from being candidate countries to accession countries - that is, from April 25, the two countries will send observers to the European Parliament and will receive larger amounts of pre-accession funding.

Positive effects

The approval of the Accession Treaty is a very positive signal for Romania and Bulgaria, confirming their progress towards EU accession until this stage. Both countries started negotiations with the EU in 2000, and completed them in 2004.

The approval of the Treaty is expected to encourage greater foreign investment to the two countries. Already, the fact that they were EU candidate countries has made them more competitive than their southeastern European neighbours. For example, Romania received $5.5 billion of foreign investment in 2004, triple the amount received in 2003. Bulgaria also attracted $2.54 billion, the highest per-capita amount in the region. Stocks have also risen, with the Bucharest-based BET10 exchange rising 84% in the last 12 months, and Sofia's Sofix rising 69%.

Also, the countries will benefit from a greater role within the European Union. They will send observers to the European Parliament from April 25, which will be able to take place in debates, even though they will not have voting power. Also, the countries will receive more funding between 2005 and 2007.

A long way to go

File:Bulgaria flag 300.png
Apart from establishing an independent judiciary and reducing corruption, Bulgaria must also deal with organised crime
Romania must bring its competition laws up to EU standards, improve environmental protection and reduce state aid

This step was one of the largest hurdles that the two countries faced before accession in 2007. Once the Accession Treaty has been signed, the only way that accession can be postponed is through the implementation of a safeguard clause by the European Commission, which can take place if either of the two countries are unprepared for joining the EU in key areas or have major problems with the last phases of accession.

However, despite the positive effects of the Accession Treaty vote, Romania and Bulgaria still have a significant amount of work to do in order to be fully prepared to join the EU in 2007. The establishment of an independent judiciary is a major issue in both countries, as is corruption. Additionally, the European Parliament has notified Bulgaria that it must deal with organised crime in a more dynamic manner. In the case of Romania, the EU has said that more progress must be made in bringing competition law up to EU standards, as well as protecting the environment and reducing state aid to loss-making industries such as the steel sector.

Olli Rehn, the European Commissioner for Enlargement, said that "These countries still have a lot to do. They have criteria to fulfill so the safeguard clause doesn't kick in." If the safeguard clause is implemented, accession will be postponed until 2008. However, in the case of Bulgaria, the safeguard clause can only be implemented if all 25 member states vote unanimously on it. In the case of Romania, only a majority vote is needed.

In either case, analysts are predicting that both countries would have to face very major problems in key areas for the safeguard clause to go into effect.