Romania and Bulgaria have signed treaties to join the European Union in 2007, provided they complete economic, political, and other reforms. The two nations will consolidate an important part of the eastern boundary of the European Union when they join.
A signing ceremony was held Monday in Luxembourg, which holds the rotating EU presidency.
Romanian President Traian Basescu says his country will play by the rules, and will assume its share of responsibility as a future EU member. He called the accession treaty an historic step.
"For us, EU membership will represent the fulfillment of a dream, more than half a century old, that of overcoming all barriers, and becoming part of the European community of values, prosperity and security," Mr. Basescu said. He said that there can be no doubt that accession to the Union will represent one of the most important moments in Romania's long European history.
The Bulgarian prime minister, Simeon Saxe-Coburg, also called the accession treaty a milestone for his country, and said entering the Union will be like rejoining the European family.
Both countries must still complete extensive economic and political reforms to meet EU standards by 2007. Economically, they are far behind even the poorest of the existing EU nations.
Romania is seen as the least prepared. Almost half of the country's 22 million people live in the countryside, and many are subsistence farmers. Romania and Bulgaria went through difficult transitions after the collapse of communism in 1989.
EU officials are especially concerned with rampant corruption in Romania. Fraser Cameron, director of studies at the European Policy Center in Brussels, says the problem will not go away easily.
"Large swaths of the economy are in the hands of Mafiosi type groups," he said. "Parts of the country are in the hands of Mafiosi-type groups. This is something that you cannot deal with over night, it is a lengthy process that requires better wages for people working in public administration, especially those dealing with customs, and border guards. It requires the development of a public sector ethos. It requires economic growth, so that the country can afford to pay these wages."
Romania must also make improvements in the areas of justice and law enforcement, and do more to secure the rights of the Roma minority. If Romania or Bulgaria does not meet EU requirements, accession can be delayed for one year to 2008. Romanian President Basescu has vowed not to miss the 2007 deadline.