EU executive wants Bulgaria, Romania to speed up reforms

The European Union executive wants Bulgaria and Romania to speed up reforms so that they can join the bloc as planned on Jan. 1., according drafts of reports it was issuing on Tuesday. Bulgaria must step up its fight against corruption and organized crime, as serious concerns remain about the effectiveness of its efforts in the field, according to a draft copy of the European Commission report seen by the Associated Press.

"While this has been a stated national priority, there are still no tangible results in investigating and prosecuting organized crime networks," the report said. "The frequent contract killings of people linked to organized crime seldom give rise to successful investigation and prosecution and continue to represent a challenge for the rule of law in the country," the report said.

Bulgaria has reduced the number of problem areas to six from 16, but it still has not completed all required reforms. Romania has four, mostly technical, problem areas left. The countries are expected to be given several months to fulfill all the membership requirements. If they are still unprepared in some areas, the commission may then decide to implement so-called "safeguard clauses" monitoring mechanisms to ensure conditions are met before they have full benefits of EU membership.

A postponement of the entry date is unlikely because it would require unanimous agreement by all EU governments in the case of Bulgaria and majority agreement for Romania. Most of the 10 new member states that joined the EU in 2004 support the 2007 entry date for both countries. Western European critics of the EU's expansion say the bloc has not fully dealt with the adhesion of 10 mostly ex-communist countries in 2004 and fear the entry of more nations will hasten the erosion of cherished social welfare benefits, reports the AP.