Despite concerns about rampant music and movie piracy, the European Commission has recommended that Romania and Bulgaria should join the European Union on Jan. 1, 2007, as anticipated.

Despite concerns about rampant music and movie piracy, the European Commission has recommended that Romania and Bulgaria should join the European Union on Jan. 1, 2007, as anticipated.

However, the Commission -- the EU's executive authority -- on Tuesday (May 16) warned that Bulgaria in particular would still have to show tangible results in the fight against fraud and corruption before accession to the EU is assured.

The final assessment on whether the two eastern European markets can join will be delayed until October, but the "possibility of being ready in 2007 is do-able", European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said.

The Commission's report, presented to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, also warns both states could face serious membership restrictions and cuts to EU funds after they join.

Officials said the Commission did not want to penalize reformist governments in both countries by delaying their entry, but with growing public unease in the existing 25 EU members over further expansion, it has to keep up the pressure for deeper changes.

The Commission and the European Parliament had long warned about illegal CD and DVD plants in those markets, corruption, and the trafficking that created a black market in pirate movies and music. 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.

Romania has improved its border controls considerably over the past two years, the Commission has noted. Indeed, the business climate has improved enough for Universal Music Group International to set up a wholly-owned affiliate in Romania. However, Bulgaria has slipped behind, and the Commission's report is far harsher on what the country has to do to meet EU standards.

The Commission report says Bulgaria has to tackle six areas of serious concern, including high-level corruption and organized crime. The report calls for tangible results: indictments, prosecutions, trials, convictions and dissuasive sentences. A special monitoring system could also be put in place in the first three years after they join if efforts to tackle corruption and reform the judiciary do not yield results.

"In the areas of police cooperation and the fight against organized crime and against fraud and corruption, only very limited progress was made despite the fact that urgent action was requested in October 2005," the Commission's monitoring paper declares.

Organized crime and corruption continue to flourish in Bulgaria and two recent high-profile killings were only the latest in what analysts say is a turf war between powerful and well-connected organized-crime groups.

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