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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 January 2007, 13:46 GMT
Viewpoints: Balkan boost for EU
As Bulgaria and Romania start to exercise their rights and responsibilities as new EU members, two MEPs say why they think the countries are an asset to the bloc.

Geoffrey Van Orden is the European Parliament's rapporteur for Bulgaria, and Baroness Emma Nicholson is a former rapporteur for Romania.

The two countries became the 26th and 27th members of the EU on 1 January.

BULGARIA

There is much that I do not like about the EU but I believe enlargement is one area of success. Bulgaria's accession extends Europe's area of stability, democracy and economic prosperity into the Balkan region and to the Black Sea, a region of growing strategic and economic importance.

Skaters in Sofia
Bulgaria's rising purchasing power will create export opportunities
Bulgaria has a distinct cultural contribution and brings particular knowledge and understanding of its neighbouring countries in South-East Europe as well as Russia.

Bulgarian accession will add a further 7.5 million consumers to the EU internal market. As income levels move towards the EU average and purchasing power increases, there will be openings for further growth in export of goods and services from Britain and other EU countries. The World Bank reports year-on-year GDP growth in Bulgaria since 1998 of over 4% - in 2006 it was 5.8%, far higher than most EU member states.

Bulgaria is also an attractive target for foreign direct investment. In an expanding economy there are opportunities for British and other businesses, if they are seized. Currently Germany and Austria are the most significant investors.

The accession of Bulgaria and Romania further widens the EU, and this inevitably means less deepening
Sustained progress will of course be dependent on entrenching legal, judicial and police reforms and overcoming deficiencies in other areas. For Bulgaria, EU membership will provide the necessary disciplines and support mechanisms, along with practical and financial assistance.

Furthermore, the accession of Bulgaria and Romania further widens the EU, and this inevitably means less deepening. The fact that it is now a club of 27 very different nations will be a further brake on the unwelcome process of intense EU political integration driven by Paris, Berlin and Brussels.

ROMANIA

Despite the negative coverage it has been getting in Britain's tabloid press, Romania will make a surprisingly positive contribution to the EU once it settles in as a new member. You may be surprised to hear this, but I consider Romania as one of the most dynamic, tolerant and flexible countries in Europe.

Crane reflected on glass building in Bucharest
New buildings and cranes abound in Bucharest
Backed by its tremendously skilled workforce, the Romanian economy is growing at about 7% per year. Bucharest is now a building site, foreign direct investment is at record levels and unemployment is at an all-time low.

A major success story over the past years is that of Romania's children. It is a fact that Romania is the only country in Central and Eastern Europe that has fundamentally reformed its child welfare system, and has managed to stop the flow of infants into child care institutions. This is a tremendous achievement by any standards and Romania has a lot to teach those countries that have not yet tackled their child institutionalisation problem.

Romania now has more Roma teachers than any other country in Europe
On tolerance, consider the Roma ethnic minority. Although prejudice against the Roma still exists in Romania, as in other EU countries, great efforts have been made to tackle discrimination, for example by including Roma in elementary education; indeed Romania now has more Roma teachers than any other country in Europe.

Romanians are hardworking, highly skilled and, in my long experience of visiting the country, are very friendly and open people. The country also benefits from a large pool of creative talent, underlined by its impressive theatre and film industry.

Although some political problems persist, the country and her people are experienced at overcoming challenges and EU membership is a testament to the remarkable results Romania has already achieved.

Geoffrey Van Orden MEP is a Conservative MEP for the east of England, Baroness Emma Nicholson is a Liberal Democrat MEP for south-east England.


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