After much deliberation and considerable controversy, the European Commission today announced that Bulgaria and Romania would join the Union from next January. This will bring the total number of members states to 27. The Commission's press statement says:
Today the Commission adopted its final monitoring report on the preparedness of Bulgaria and Romania for EU membership. Based on the solid progress achieved, the Commission considers that both countries will be in a position to take on the rights and obligations of EU membership on 1 January 2007. To address the limited number of areas where further work will be necessary, the Commission proposes a package of rigorous accompanying measures.
...Commenting the Commission’s decision President José Manuel Barroso stated: “I congratulate the people and the leaders of Bulgaria and Romania for this historic achievement. ...This enlargement has consolidated peace and brought more prosperity in Europe. This is the right decision for Bulgaria and for Romania and this is the right decision for Europe.”
In fact, since May, the two countries have successfully addressed about half of the identified open areas. Based on the current momentum, it is reasonable to expect that the majority of the remaining issues will be resolved during the months to come.
...Subject to the outstanding ratification processes in 4 EU Member States, on 1 January 2007, Bulgaria’s and Romania’s accession will bring 30 million people into the EU, thus completing the EU’s historic fifth round of enlargement and creating a Union of almost half a billion citizens.
With 'enlargement fatigue' setting in, that's likely to be it for now. Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey will have to wait some time before they get the chance to join. Meanwhile, according to press reports today, Britain is to restrict new EU migrants:
Bulgarians and Romanians are unlikely to be granted open access to jobs in the UK, the government said today, hours before formal approval of the two states' accession to the EU was due to be announced.
The immigration minister, Liam Byrne, said although a larger EU was good for the British economy, there was still a question mark over whether the new members would enjoy an open-door policy similar to that adopted after the last expansion.
Some kind of restrictions on work permits seems to be the government's thinking - though how this will work in practice has not yet been made clear. On Bulgaria and Romania, George Parker at the Financial Times reports today that:
The European Commission has decided the two countries should join in 2007 but serious concerns remain about their fight against corruption and organised crime and their ability to protect billions of euros of EU funds from fraud.
José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, will announce tough monitoring of their performance in the coming months, and will warn that they could be punished if they fail to step up reforms.
Bulgaria, with a population of 8m, is the biggest headache; Brussels believes its police and courts have not yet proved up to the task of rooting out high-level government corruption or tackling criminal gangs. Unless the EU is satisfied that things have improved, it can refuse to recognise Bulgarian court judgements and suspend police and judicial cooperation.
Both countries have been warned that hundreds of millions of euros of farm subsidies and EU regional aid could be suspended if payment systems are shown to be vulnerable to persistent fraud.
Romania, with a population of 22m, will become the seventh biggest member of the club, whose borders will now extend to the Black Sea.
Mr Barroso warned on Monday that it would be “unwise” to allow any future enlargements of the EU until it has updated its institutions - in other words until the union has ratified parts of its moribund constitution.