by RAY FLEMING
BULGARIA and Romania, the two countries next in line for membership of the European Union, were given rather different messages this week about their prospects of joining on 1 January 2007. Romania was praised for the progress it has made in establishing EU principles and practices but warned that there was still much to be done. Bulgaria was given similar encouragement but the list of areas still needing reform was dauntingly large, including corruption throughout officialdom, money laundering, the lack of an independent judiciary, and delays in preparing its agricultural sector for membership of the Common Agricultural Policy. Both countries were told that a final decision on 2007 entry will be made on October 1 this year, according to progress achieved on outstanding problems. Romania might well be ready by then but it seems to be asking a lot for Bulgaria to rid itself in a few months of practices that still bear the stamp of its communist past. A delay of one year for Bulgaria's accession might be a sensible compromise but the EU Commission in Brussels thinks that it could slow down or bring to a halt the impetus for reform. The counter argument is that membership would in itself give a boost to Bulgarian pride and help to speed the completion of reform. While recognising the needs of these two countries the Commission must also keep in mind the negative effect for the EU as a whole of members who do not play by the rules.