Every day, Romania creeps a little closer to joining the EU. Here's the short version: Romania and Bulgaria are scheduled to become the 26th and 27th EU members on January 1, 2007. That's less than 16 months away. But! The accession treaty has a special "safeguard clause", providing that if the candidates don't show enough progress, accession can be delayed by a year -- pushing it back to January 1, 2008. And accession could also be delayed if any of the 25 EU members don't ratify the accession treaty. This has never happened, and it probably won't happen this time... it would create a major crisis if it did. But it is out there. So what's the status at the moment?
-- Only two of the 25 have yet ratified Romania's accession: Slovakia, about a month ago, and Hungary, just this week. Given the sometimes troubled relations between Hungary and Romania, this was a nice gesture. None of the "Old 15" have ratified yet. -- German Chancellor Schroeder, however, once again expressed his support for Romania's membership. This would be more encouraging if Schroeder were not in grave danger of losing his seat; Germany has elections next week, and Schroeder's party is running neck-and-neck with the Christian Democrat Union opposition. Worse yet, the CDU is distinctly cool to further EU enlargement. If they win next week, then the EU's largest member will be run by a party that wants to slow or stop expansion. At a minimum, they'll probably push for activating the safeguard clause. -- A recent (last week) EuroBarometer poll shows that only 45% of EU members’ citizens support Romania’s accession Croatia got a support of 52%. (Croatia has, IMO, a much better reputation than it deserves.) Bulgaria received 50% and Turkey only 35%. Out of all EU members Sweden, Greece and Denmark gave the strongest support for Romania, while he countries with the least support were Austria and Germany. Head of the European Commission Delegation in Romania Jonathan Scheele said: "I am worried by the 45% support that Romania has received. You have to try hard to become more popular. Romania is the least known country in the EU". 'You have to try hard to become more popular'? What is Romania supposed to do? Get a makeover? (Seriously, this is something that deserves a post in its own right. Romania has a pretty negative image in Europe. Basically, it's Ceausescu, Dracula, orphans, poverty, corruption, and maybe guest workers. It's ridiculous that a country with so much to offer is stuck with such a stupid set of stereotypes, but there it is.) -- The recent bout of mild political instability has not helped. The on-again, off-again elections, the Cabinet reshuffle, the constant blowing hot and cold on key issues (we won't raise taxes! Yes, we will! No, we won't!) don't look so good. I posted recently over at A Fistful of Euros about the EU punishing Albania for severe political immaturity; it's not impossible that something similar could happen here. On the plus side... every day helps. The closer Romania gets to January 1, 2007, the harder it will be for the EU to activate the safeguard clause. The next big hurdle? The annual report on Romania's progress, which will come out next month. The odds? At this point I'd say they're about even.