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EU Delays Decision on Romania, Bulgaria Accession

The European Union has delayed recommending whether Romania and Bulgaria can join the 25-member bloc. Brussels hopes both countries will speed up political and economic reforms.

A long-awaited report by the European Union's executive branch, the European Commission, says Brussels will wait until release of a report in October before recommending whether or not Bulgaria and Romania can join the European Union next year or wait until 2008.

The EU Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, and its Enlargement Commissioner are to visit Romania and Bulgaria as a message of encouragement.

The Commission's decision to delay a recommendation does not come as a complete surprise. Experts like Katinka Barysch, of the London-based Center for European Reform, say the European Union has long been prodding Romania and Bulgaria to speed up political and economic reforms.

"It is an attempt by the European Union to introduce an element of uncertainty into the accession process of Bulgaria and Romania," she said. "Simply because the European Union had done something that it has never done before: It basically said to these countries, "We are going to give you a date for entry no matter what."

By injecting this new uncertainty, Barysch says, the European Unon is trying to increase pressure on both countries to crack down on political corruption and crime, among other problems. Barysch says neither country is likely to be upset about the delay.

"For them it is still good news because the European Union did not say, 'No, you cannot come in; no, you have to wait until 2008,"' she said. "It said , 'Yes, you can come in, but you have to continue doing your homework.'"

Already both countries are benefiting from closer EU trade ties, and their likely membership has boosted investor confidence.