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EU confident on Romania, Bulgaria entry - draft

Written by: Staff
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BRUSSELS, June 7 (Reuters) European Union leaders will say at a summit next week they are convinced Romania and Bulgaria can make the necessary reforms to join the bloc on January 1, 2007, according to draft conclusions for the June 15-16 meeting.

''The European Council remains convinced that, with the necessary political will, both countries can overcome the deficits stated to reach the envisaged date of accession on 1 January 2007,'' said a draft of the EU summit's conclusions obtained by Reuters today.

Bulgaria's EU accession minister said the country had won EU approval for a strategy to address concerns over its accession readiness and it hoped to join in 2007 as planned.

Last month, the European Commission put off for five months its final recommendation on the two Balkan states' entry date into the 25-nation bloc, warning them it could still be put back to 2008 if they failed to make the necessary reforms.

The bloc's executive body told the Black Sea states they needed to pass a final review of progress in fighting organised crime and improving state administration to join in 2007.

The draft conclusion shows EU leaders are set to back the Commission's position next week.

''While commending both countries for the reform efforts undertaken lately, the European Council calls on Bulgaria and Romania to rigorously step up their efforts to tackle decisively and without delay the remaining issues of concern as mentioned in the Commission's May 2006 report,'' it says.

''This is the way to put pressure on them,'' said a senior EU diplomat, adding that there was a general consensus on that position among EU governments.

''We are confident, but the ball is in their court,'' said a French diplomat.

ACTION PLAN Sofia and Bucharest vowed to work hard to avoid any delay after the Commission move last month.

Bulgarian EU Accession Minister Meglena Kuneva, who presented an action plan in Brussels yesterday, told a news conference in Sofia it had satisfied the European Commission.

''If we fulfil this plan, we can hope the European Commission will not propose a delay ... which will be enough for us to be able to enter the EU on January 1, 2007,'' she said.

Kuneva gave no details but said the plan included an anti-corruption strategy which the Socialist-led cabinet would discuss and likely approve tomorrow.

She said the plan should address other concerns, including establishing systems to register farm animals and disburse EU farm subsidies and development funds.

Also today, Bulgaria's Supreme Judicial Council approved a plan drawn up by U.S. federal development agency US AID to improve transparency and accountability in courts.

The plan includes competitive hiring to help end nepotism, random distribution of cases to prevent organised crime bosses getting sympathetic judges and recording trials on tape.

''Bulgaria's courts will be more effective and open,'' Supreme Judiciary Council member Panayot Genkov told Reuters.

The draft for the EU summit also addresses concerns over enlargement fatigue among EU members, inviting the Commission to present a report on the EU's ''absorption capacity''.

This would focus on legal, institutional and financial aspects as well as ''on the perception of enlargement by public opinion within the union'', the draft said.

REUTERS SHB PC1900

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