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Brussels under fire for being too soft on Bulgaria and Romania

Some EU member states have criticized the European Commission for failing to be tougher in demanding Bulgaria and Romania to tackle serious corruption cases as was agreed before the Black Sea newcomers joined the bloc.

Britain and France have joined Sweden and the Netherlands in calling on the EU executive to keep up the pressure on both countries to continue their legal reforms, warning that otherwise the EU risks undermining its enlargement policy, the Financial Times reports. EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini has in particular come under fire for allegedly getting too close to Roumen Petkov, Bulgaria's interior minister, says the newspaper. Frattini is accused of joining the Bulgarian minister for private trips such as skiing in February, while closing his eyes to Bulgaria's insufficient performance in dealing with high-level corruption cases. Frattini's spokesman rejected the allegations insisting that Brussels is doing its job with coherent and consistent monitoring of the newcomers.

Sofia and Bucharest got the green light for EU entry last year only on the condition that after accession they would meet certain „benchmarks” on crime and corruption, facing a regime of continued EU monitoring which no new member state ever faced before. Dissatisfied with the progress of that monitoring, the four member states have called for a special meeting with Catherine Day, the commission's secretary general, to urge for tougher language by the EU executive, particularly towards Bulgaria. For its part, Bulgaria has criticized the way the EU goes about its post-accession monitoring. The Bulgarian interior minister recently said that Europe should not apply double standards, suggesting that corrupt areas in other countries are being ignored while the newcomers are given a hard time. But both commission officials and diplomats insist that Sofia must respect the tutelage system in place as it was set up as an alternative to postponing the country's entry to the EU due to its continuing shortcomings in the legal area.

Some diplomats and MEPs suggest insufficient monitoring on the part of the EU could damage the credibility of its enlargement process with consequences for treating future candidates. „It was a big failure of the EU to say that Romania and Bulgaria would become members in 2007,” German centre-right MEP Doris Pack said earlier this month when speaking about EU enlargement in Southeast Europe at a conference in Sarajevo. She explained that once the Southern Balkan countries had been told about the date of entry, they had relaxed progress on necessary reforms as they knew they would enter the bloc anyway. „This is a failure we will never do again,” she said. (