The European Commission told Romania and Bulgaria Tuesday (Sept. 26) that they can become full members of the European Union from Jan. 1, 2007, but warned of unprecedented sanctions if a series of goa

The European Commission told Romania and Bulgaria Tuesday (Sept. 26) that they can become full members of the European Union from Jan. 1, 2007, but warned of unprecedented sanctions if a series of goals are not met, including actions on piracy and IP protection.

The Commission -- the EU’s executive authority -- will threaten the safeguards unless the two Balkan nations take immediate action on judicial and administrative reform.

The two countries have long been warned about their notorious black market in pirate movies and music, and their illegal CD and DVD-making plants. Both Romania and Bulgaria face heavy cross-border trade in pirated materials, and officials are concerned that customs are not yet up to the task of defending what is supposed to become the EU's external border.

A draft Commission report says that while the two countries have "reached a high degree of alignment" with EU needs, there are still a "number of areas of continuing concern."

For Bulgaria the main areas of concern include the fight against corruption, organized crime and money laundering, the report says, adding that there have been few concrete examples of investigations.

Likewise, for Romania, piracy and organized crime is a cause for concern, as is the justice system and the fight against corruption. But the report praises Romania on progress in several areas since the Commission issued its previous statement in May.

There are several types of safeguard measures that the Commission is considering unless the two countries get in shape. One would allow current EU member states to unilaterally suspend any obligations in the area of civil and criminal law. Additionally, Brussels could withhold the application of EU funds: up to 25% of their lucrative handouts could be withheld for a year or more.

The draft report makes clear the two countries, who will bring the EU total to 27 member states, will be monitored more closely than previous acceding countries. Both Romania and Bulgaria will have to complete monitoring reports proving they come up to scratch in several different areas -- six for Bulgaria and four for Romania -- every six months. The first report is due at the end of March next year.

The unambiguous wording of the report and the extent to which the commission is prepared to show it is keeping a close eye on the two countries is part of an overall strategy to reassure an increasingly enlargement-sceptical EU public.

The measures are the first riders to be attached to new EU members. However, Romania and Bulgaria will be delighted that the Commission report on their accession does not propose delaying membership for a year. Nor does it set out a second-class citizenship, with access to certain benefits restricted.

Bulgaria in particular is under pressure to show results in fighting organized crime, introduce anti-fraud and corruption laws, crack down on money laundering and clean up the market in pirate and counterfeit products.

The IFPI says CD and DVD plants are still found producing illegal discs in Bulgaria. The trade body wants Sofia to improve its copyright law in key areas such as the protection technological measures used to protect music. "Internet piracy in Bulgaria is rising sharply and physical piracy remains a serious problem with pirate CDs easily available in all the country's major cities," the IFPI said in its 2006 piracy report. "This widespread copyright crime is severely hampering the growth of the legitimate music industry in Bulgaria."