EU backs Jan. 1 entry date for Romania, Bulgaria

EU leaders on Friday backed bids by Romania and Bulgaria to join the 25-nation bloc next year, but urged the two Balkan countries to speed up essential reforms. Bulgaria, which an EU report last month said was the less prepared of the two, must show results in fighting organized crime, introduce anti-fraud and corruption laws, crack down on money laundering and complete agriculture reforms. Romania must finish setting up agencies for disbursing EU aid to farmers, speed up agricultural reforms and improve its tax collection system to allow proper collection of value added tax. "The European Council remains convinced that, with the remaining political will, both countries can overcome the deficits to reach the envisaged date of accession on January 1," the statement said.