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Wednesday, 8 November, 2000, 00:47 GMT
EU to warn applicants about corruption
European parliament
The EU hints new members are unlikely before 2004
By Oana Lungescu in Brussels

The European Commission is expected to launch a strong warning about widespread corruption in the 12 countries from Eastern and Southern Europe currently negotiating membership of the European Union.

In its annual progress reports, due out on Wednesday, the Commission will praise all the applicants, with the exception of Romania, for their economic reforms.

But it is likely to disappoint the front-runners who were expecting a clear timetable for joining the EU from January 2003.

The biggest applicant country, Poland, which was criticised last year, will receive recognition for having made the greatest economic strides, together with Estonia and Hungary.

Praise and blame

The Czech Republic and Slovenia, however, will be told to speed up economic reforms.

Warsaw skyline
Warsaw was urged to tackle corruption
The reports will also provide encouragement for Slovakia, which began negotiations only this year, and will welcome progress achieved in Bulgaria.

Romania however will be singled out for criticism for the slow pace of economic reforms and insufficient improvement in the living conditions of its 100,000 abandoned children.

And there will be a strong warning to all the EU hopefuls that they cannot take corruption lightly.

During a recent trip to Poland, the European enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen described corruption as a cancer that spreads unless it is tackled energetically.

Candidate countries will be told to improve the training and pay of their civil servants, and to strengthen their judiciaries, after half a century of communist rule.

Further delays

But on the key issues of accession dates, a strategy paper will simply recommend that the EU should conclude negotiations with the most advanced countries during the course of 2002.

It does not specify which these countries are.

Taking into account the lengthy ratification procedures, EU officials believe that no new members can realistically expect to join before 2004 or 2005.

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See also:

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