Today the leaders of Bulgaria and Romania will sign in Luxembourg the countries’ accession
treaties, which lay out the terms of membership. The ceremonial act, which
takes place today, will be one of the final formal steps before the two states
join the EU on 1 January 2007. A Commission report due in November could still
trigger safeguard clauses to postpone their accession by one year if either
of the countries fails significantly in pushing for necessary reforms in their
respective problem areas. However, after the signing of the treaties, Bulgaria
and Romania will get a slightly enhanced status of "accession countries" – as
opposed to previously being labelled as 'candidates'. Their representatives
will start attending the EU's Council of Ministers and parliamentary meetings
as observers, without voting powers.

International agenda

Aside from Bulgaria
and Romania, the beginning of this week will also be focused on a range
of external relations issues that appear on EU Foreign ministers' agenda.
Following last week’s visit by Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso
to Moscow, the ministers will debate the current state of EU-Russia dialogue
ahead of
a summit between the two parties on 10 May. While there appears to be
a
movement towards agreement on co-operation in four major areas: economy;
freedom, security
and justice; external security; culture, education and research, there
are still some contentious issues on the table. These concern visa rules
between
Russia and EU’s Schengen zone, Moscow’s human rights and
Chechnya policy and border agreements with Estonia and Latvia.

Also featuring
on
the ministers' agenda is Zimbabwe after the recent parliamentary elections,
along
with other pressing issues in Africa’s Great Lakes region, as well
as developments in Iraq, the Middle East and in the Western Balkans.

Finally,
ministers
will consider the Commission’s proposals to improve the EU’s
preparedness for disasters, as a follow-up to the evaluation of Europe’s
response to the Indian Ocean tsunami earlier this year, while the EU
executive will
debate plans for more Europe’s aid to the region at its regular
meeting.

Economic issues

On Wednesday 27 April, the Commission will also
discuss
a draft EU budget for 2006. It will be the first spending plan entirely
in the hands
of President Barroso’s team, and "its priorities will be clearly
reflected in it," according to Commission’s spokeswoman. At
the same time, it will be the last annual budget based on the previous
financial
perspective, the EU’s seven-year budgetary framework.

Human rights
under the spotlight


Human rights will be the buzzword in the European
Parliament this
week. A two-day public seminar attended by national MPs, Commission President
Barroso, European Parliament’s President Josep Borrell and several
leading figures in the area of human rights will express their opinions
on how to move "from
words to deeds or how to make rights a reality." Furthermore, MEPs
will on Wednesday discuss a report by Simon Coveney (EPP-ED) about human
rights
in the world and the relevant EU’s policies to pursue their protection.
They will also contemplate the Commission’s statement on the situation
of Roma minorities in Europe.

 

OTHER EVENTS

General Affairs and External
Relations Council, Luxembourg: 24 – 26 April 2005

Agriculture and
Fisheries Council, Luxembourg: 26 April 2005

European IST Prize, Brussels:
26 April
2005

Info Days
Joint Research Centre, Brussels: 26 – 28 April 2005

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