The European Union executive body has given the green light to 10 countries that are slated to join the bloc next year, but has warned them that they must address serious shortcomings before they become members.
In its final report on preparations for the biggest EU expansion, the European Commission says all of the future members, especially the largest, Poland, still have to implement reforms in various areas to meet EU standards.
It says that, if solutions to these problems are not found before the 10 countries join the Union on May 1, the acceding states could find their products barred from the EU single market or be denied EU agricultural or regional subsidies.
The Commission is especially concerned about Poland, which it criticizes, among other things, for failing to bring its agricultural regulations up to EU standards and not doing enough to fight corruption. It also warns Hungary and Slovakia that they must improve their agricultural standards and tells the Czech Republic that it has to deal with deteriorating public finances.
Slovenia, a former Yugoslav republic, gets the best report card of the 10, followed by Lithuania.
Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, and Malta are being told they have to move faster in enacting reforms that will bring them in line with their richer western European neighbors.
The Commission also reports on three countries that are seeking to join the Union in the years ahead - Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey. Bulgaria and Romania are in negotiations with the European Union and hope to become members in 2007. Turkey has not yet begun accession talks.
The European Union says Bulgaria must do much more to curb corruption and reform its judiciary. It casts serious doubts on Romania's readiness to join the bloc, saying the Balkan country is not yet a functioning market economy, a prerequisite for membership.
But it reserves most of its criticism for Turkey, saying that, despite Ankara's progress in enacting reforms, it still has to implement many of the changes, notably improving human rights and ensuring civilian control of the powerful Turkish military.
And, in a warning that has miffed Turkish leaders, the European Union says Turkey's failure to settle the Cyprus problem could pose a serious obstacle to its bid to open EU membership talks.