EU urges Romania to continue reforms

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Wednesday praised Romania 's progress in carrying out reforms, but said the country needed to go "the extra mile" to be ready to join the EU in 2007. A report released by the European Commission on Tuesday said both Romania and neighboring Bulgaria could join the European Union on Jan. 1 as scheduled, provided they implemented key reforms.

Romania has several, mostly technical, areas left to address, mainly in tax collection and agricultural reform. Specifically, the country must finish setting up agencies for disbursing EU aid to farmers; raise veterinary standards for livestock and other agricultural reforms; and make its electronic tax administration system compatible with the EU to allow proper collection of VAT, the report said. " Romania has made a lot of progress. Now there is the extra mile, the final stretch," Barroso told reporters. He arrived in Bucharest late Tuesday with EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, and they dined with Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu and key government ministers.

Although corruption and judicial reforms are no longer considered major stumbling blocks to Romania 's accession to the EU, Barroso urged the government to continue its fight against corruption and reform of the justice system. "The reform of the judiciary is the priority of all priorities since an independent and efficient judicial system affects the lives of all in society," he said.

Asked whether Romania and Bulgaria would join at the same time, Barroso said: "Each country will be analyzed on its own merits," adding "of course we would like both countries to join on Jan. 1, 2007 . That is our goal." The Commission report said Bulgaria must produce clear results in investigating and prosecuting organized crime networks; implement laws for fighting fraud and corruption; do more to prevent money laundering; prevent embezzlement of EU aid; and complete agriculture reforms. The two countries' progress will be evaluated again in early October. Barroso and Rehn were due to fly to Bulgaria later Wednesday, reports the AP.


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