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European Union Set to Expand

The European Union gives the green light today for Romania and Bulgaria to join the 25-member block in January. The two Eastern European countries may the last to join the EU for a while.

The European Commission's recommendation for Romania and Bulgaria to join the European Union comes with some caveats. Both countries must continue reforms in a number of areas, including cracking down on corruption and organized crime, and must improve their justice systems and other branches of government. If they fall behind, the two countries risk losing some membership benefits, including EU assistance.

European Union leaders are expected to formally approve their membership in October. With Romania and Bulgaria joining the EU ranks, the block will swell to 27 members, next year.

The EU is unlikely to admit more members in the near future.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso believes the bloc should reform its institutions before inviting other countries to join. Otherwise, he says, the union will be to unwieldy. That news may disappoint prospective EU candidates, such as Turkey, Croatia and Serbia.

Still, experts like former EU Commissioner Yves Thibault de Silguy believe reforming the EU's institutions is vital.

In an interview on France Info radio Tuesday, Thibault de Silguy said, when EU institutions were first established, they were intended for a far-smaller body of nations. He says future enlargement will be even more difficult, because EU hopefuls like the Balkan countries and Turkey are very different countries from the Western European countries that form the bloc's core.

The proposed European Constitution would have facilitated institutional reform. But the charter has been on hold, since France and the Netherlands rejected it, last year.