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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 September 2006, 04:31 GMT 05:31 UK
Entry boost for two EU hopefuls
By Oana Lungescu
BBC News, Brussels

A woman in the Bulgarian capital Sofia sews EU flags
Bulgaria and Romania may join the EU in 2007
The European Commission is expected to confirm that Bulgaria and Romania can join the European Union next January, rather than in 2008.

But, according to a draft report seen by the BBC, both countries may face sanctions without deep reforms.

Romania and Bulgaria risk food export bans and cuts to EU funds, says the report, due to be published on Tuesday.

They will also be checked on corruption and judicial reform in some of the EU's toughest-ever entry conditions.

The threat of a one-year delay no longer hangs over Bulgaria and Romania, but they will be watched like no other EU member.

Corruption crackdown

According to the draft report, both countries have made further progress to complete their preparations for membership, demonstrating their capacity to apply EU principles and legislation from January 1, 2007.

However, corruption and organised crime remain a source of major concern, especially regarding Bulgaria, as are food safety standards and setting up the payment agencies for EU farm subsidies.

The report sets Bulgaria six specific benchmarks on judicial reform and fighting corruption, and Romania four.

Unless they make progress, both countries will face safeguard measures suspending the recognition of decisions made by their courts in the rest of the EU.

Other possible sanctions include food export bans, due to outbreaks of swine fever, and withholding a quarter of EU farm aid, worth hundreds of millions of euros.

Romania and Bulgaria will complete the EU's expansion into the former communist bloc, after ten other countries joined in 2004.

But their tough entry conditions also reflect public concern in Western Europe that the EU must think twice before admitting any more countries.

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