EU Welcomes Romania, Bulgaria, Slows Bid of Turkey

BRUSSELS, Belgium (Bloomberg)–Romania and Bulgaria clinched membership in the European Union, as the EU set limits on further enlargement by putting the brakes on entry talks with Turkey. EU leaders gave the go-ahead for Romania and Bulgaria to join on Jan. 1, bringing the bloc to 27 countries with a population of 485 million. The EU also froze part of Turkey’s negotiations amid mounting public unease over further expansion. “We cannot admit every nation that seeks to join,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a news conference after an EU summit in Brussels today. French President Jacques Chirac demanded that would-be members “accept the rules of the game in the EU.” Two years after the EU expanded into eastern Europe, the public mood in Europe is swinging against further enlargement, with top contenders in next year’s French presidential election promising to keep Turkey out. Bringing in Turkey — a Muslim country of 72 million with living standards a quarter of the EU average — would be a “good thing” in the eyes of only 21 percent of Europeans, the German Marshall Fund said in a June survey. Turkey and Cyprus EU leaders ratified a Dec. 11 decision by foreign ministers to suspend talks in eight of 35 policy chapters to penalize Turkey for shutting its seaports and airports to traffic from the Greek-speaking republic of Cyprus, an EU member since 2004. “The European Union sent Turkey a crystal-clear message,” said Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis. “Eight chapters won’t open at all. All the others, even if opened, won’t close.” Merkel held out the prospect of starting two negotiating chapters with Turkey when she holds the EU’s rotating presidency during the first half of 2007. Still, any one country could veto even that gesture. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, one of Turkey’s leading EU backers, said Europe needs to keep Turkey’s entry prospects alive to foster stability in the broader Middle East. “It is important that we continue the process of accession with Turkey, that we do not shut the door,” Blair told reporters today before flying to Ankara to meet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey has bucked EU pressure to ease its trade curbs on the southern, Greek Cypriot republic as long as the EU won’t fulfill a pledge to trade with the Turkish-occupied north of the island. EU leaders captured the anti-expansion sentiment by demanding “strict conditionality” in all future entry talks and vowing to “take into account the capacity of the union to absorb new members,” according a post-summit statement. Croatia is bidding to become the second ex-Yugoslav republic to join, though one roadblock is the EU’s failure to pass a constitution to make way for new arrivals. The rest of the former Yugoslavia — Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina — and Albania are at earlier stages in the EU process. EU leaders will chart the way forward on the constitution – – vetoed last year by voters in France and the Netherlands — next June. Today Britain led the opposition to scrapping national vetoes over internal security and migration policies. “Deepening reform” should come before the bloc takes in more members, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said. Hurdles inside the EU haven’t lessened the attraction of membership to countries on the outside. Romania stands to garner EU subsidies totaling 32 billion euros ($42 billion) and Bulgaria 11 billion euros through 2013. “Bulgaria went a long way to join the EU,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said in an interview at the summit. “I am confident it was worth it.” The Bulgarian economy swelled 5.5 percent in 2005 to about $24 billion — its eighth consecutive year of growth — and Romania’s economy grew 4.1 percent to about $100 billion, its sixth straight year of expansion. Both countries may not get the full benefits of membership right away. The EU is considering limiting some financial aid and market access because the judicial systems and health standards in Romania and Bulgaria aren’t up to EU levels. Russia, in turn, is threatening to ban meat imports from the EU once the two former Soviet satellites join. Russia is already blockading meat and vegetables from Poland.

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