Romania and Bulgaria given green light to join EU on Jan. 1, 2007

Romania and Bulgaria can be admitted as full members in the European Union on Jan. 1, 2007, EU officials said Tuesday in a report recommending to the 25 governments already in the bloc that they accept the two poorer Balkan nations.

The European Commission said in its much-anticipated final report that both nations had made enough progress for entry. But it said that a significant chunk of expected economic aid should be made conditional on the completion of further reforms needed in justice and home affairs, as well as food safety and state subsidies.

The decision to admit the two neighboring countries increases the size of the European Union to 27 nations, but comes at a time of growing doubts about whether the bloc's rapid expansion should continue to take in nations such as Turkey and Croatia in coming years.

EU leaders will meet next month to give formal approval to Romania and Bulgaria whose bid for EU membership had been stalled due to their spotty records on fighting corruption. Both rank among the poorest nations in Europe.

Four countries France, Germany, Denmark and Belgium have yet to ratify the entry of Romania, a country of 22 million, and Bulgaria, with 8 million, but are expected to do so soon, reports AP.

"Bulgaria and Romania have made further progress to complete their preparations for membership, demonstrating their capacity to apply EU principles and legislation from Jan. 1, 2007," said the report presented by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and the EU's expansion commissioner, Olli Rehn.

Barroso said the entry of the two nations into the bloc would be a "historic achievement."

Both countries will face restrictions in terms of their work force gaining access to other European Union markets. Britain, Sweden and Ireland, which opened the door to workers from the 10 newcomers who joined in 2004, are likely to set the strictest conditions. But they may also be shut out of labor markets in Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic themselves battling restrictions by countries further west.