European Union's Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said Friday that a slowdown in judicial reforms and the fight against organized crime in Bulgaria could delay its efforts to join the EU in 2007. Rehn was in Bulgaria for final talks ahead of the Oct. 25 release of a crucial report by the European Commission on Bulgaria's preparedness to join the union in 2007, according to the AP.
Rehn urged "immediate remedial action. Over the recent years there has been significant progress in Bulgaria in the work toward meeting accession conditions," Rehn told reporters during a visit in Sofia. "However, after the closure of negotiations last year Bulgaria has lost ground as regards the implementation of the commitments."
Rehn met Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev, who said all remaining commitments could be fulfilled by January 2007 and asked for fair treatment.
"Bulgaria will do its job and we will expect fair treatment, so that we do not fall prey to internal problems in the European Union or in some of its member states," Stanishev said, referring mainly to the rejection of the European constitution by French and Dutch voters and to negative public attitudes in some EU countries toward any further expansion of the bloc.
"The report is likely to recognize the significant progress achieved by Bulgaria ... but it also will identify certain shortcomings," Rehn said. "These relate mostly to the reform in the judiciary and the fight against organized crime and corruption."
Rehn refused to speculate on the report's content, or on whether it would recommend a postponement of Bulgaria's membership.
Bulgaria is scheduled to join the EU along with neighboring Romania in 2007, but the bloc has said it would not hesitate to delay their membership by a year if they fail to introduce needed reforms.