Germany seeking EC confirmation on Bulgaria, Romania’s judicial reform progress

photo1.jpgGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday (November 2nd) that her country may insist Bulgaria and Romania take additional steps in the areas of justice and home affairs, if they fail to adequately address problems highlighted in the European Commission’s (EC) latest report on the two countries. 

Speaking during Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu’s one-day visit to Germany, Merkel said she had asked EC President Jose Manuel Barroso to inform Berlin in late December whether the two Balkan nations have dealt with “deficits” in the two areas.

Germany will then decide whether to demand any further measures before the two countries join the EU. Their entry into the bloc is scheduled for January 1st, 2007 — the same day that Germany takes over the six-month rotating EU presidency from Finland.

Last week, the German parliament’s lower house, the Bundestag, ratified the two countries’ accession treaty with an overwhelming majority of 529 votes out of 551. However, the lawmakers urged the government to press the EC to activate safeguard clauses immediately after Bulgaria and Romania join, to counter problems in the areas of justice and agriculture.

The EC has rejected that call, making it clear the new member states will be given time to address shortcomings. The safeguard clauses — including, for example, one that could mean Bulgarian and Romanian court verdicts are not recognised by other EU countries — will only go into effect if a third of members support activating them. Merkel voiced confidence that the parliament’s upper house, the Bundesrat, will also vote in favour of the treaty’s ratification later this month.

“Romania has made great efforts to join the EU,” she said. She added, however, that areas with outstanding problems would remain under close observation.

Other issues Tariceanu and Merkel discussed on Thursday included the priorities of the upcoming German EU presidency, the future of the EU constitutional treaty and Romanian workers’ access to the German labour market after January 1st.

Merkel said Berlin would not impose any special restrictions on Romanian jobseekers, other than those already imposed on workers from the ten Central and East European countries that joined the EU in May 2004.

“It will not be a special situation for Romania. There will be the same rules applicable to the nationals of the other ten states that joined,” the Romanian news agency Mediafax quoted Merkel as saying. “It is Germany’s way of protecting its labour market.”

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