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Bulgarian Premier says country „can't afford” to slow change

Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said his country „can't afford” to slow the pace of judicial and administrative change after joining the European Union next year. Bulgaria will be ready to meet standards set by the EU for membership on January 1, Stanishev told reporters in Berlin yesterday, a day after meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The EU two days ago endorsed membership for Bulgaria and Romania, though envisaged close monitoring of Bulgaria's preparations to join the EU in six areas where it falls short of EU norms. „We cannot stop reforms; we shall not stop reforms,” Stanishev said, adding the country was particularly focused on its judicial system and climate for doing business. „This entry is really the final fall of the Berlin Wall for Bulgarian citizens.” European Commission President Jose Barroso yesterday urged Bulgaria to press ahead with change in areas including justice and domestic affairs, agriculture, aviation safety and copyright law.

The EU wields the threat of membership curbs such as blocking aid and market access because of concerns about corruption and food and financial standards. With a combined population of 30 million, the two Black Sea nations are counting on full membership to help raise per-capita wealth from a third of the EU average. Bulgaria, a nation of 7.8 million people stands to receive as much as €11 billion ($14 billion) in EU funds between 2007 and 2013. The commission, the EU's executive branch, said yesterday Bulgaria and Romania had upgraded regulatory standards enough to avert a one-year entry delay. Following EU pressure and under threat in the commission's previous report in May of having its membership postponed by a year, Bulgaria stepped up the fight against corruption and organized crime. It fired five government officials for embezzlement and abuse of office and put on trial two organized crime bosses, though no one has yet been sent to jail. (Bloomberg)