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Romania Pressured by Brussels to Fix Agriculture Sector Payment Flaws, or Lose Funds

November 15, 2007

(Balkanalysis.com Research Service)- After an EC-commissioned audit, Romania was warned on 13 November “to tighten controls in its farm payment systems or face a severe cut in subsidies next year from the European Union,” the Financial Times reported yesterday.

The vast, largely agricultural country in the northeastern Balkans is hoping to receive 443m euros in EU payments to its farmers next year, the first installment of a 4.3bn euro total expected between now and the end of 2013. However, it could lose its first 180m euros of EU subsidies unless it can “correct problems in the information technology systems that it uses to distribute payments to farmers.” Along with food safety, judicial reform and corruption, agriculture reform was singled out as one of the trouble spots by Brussels as an area requiring more efforts when Romania was admitted to the EU at the beginning of this year.

A Romanian news website has reported that the government is working on the issue and that Bucharest “will not make any large scale payments [to farmers’ before the necessary checks are made and proved that it made functional its software module.” In its report, the critical EC allowed some amount of leniency by extending the deadline for reform implementation by one month, to December 16.

Quoting the EC report, the FT cited that Brussels had found “”major deficiencies in the software module designed to ensure that payments are made correctly’ to Romanian farmers and landowners.” These problems, reports the Guardian, more specifically mean upgrading the national livestock computer database and fixing software to ensure that necessary checks have been carried out on the farmers before payments are made. If the government fails to correct the problem by December 16, it will have to make the payments out of the national budget instead of from the EU. Agriculture accounts for about 40 percent of employment in Romania, a country of over 20 million people.

To reassure the Eurocrats that Romania is on the right track, Agriculture Minister Dacian Ciolos was dispatched to Brussels on Wednesday to affirm that the country “would do its utmost to correct any shortcomings,” reported the Guardian.

The underlying issue is not just of one reform, however. It’s also linked to the larger issue of European perceptions of Romania’s readiness for the EU.

Stating that the agricultural payments issue just provided more fuel for older EU members’ cynicism of Romania as unprepared when it joined the bloc on January 1st, 2007, the FT claimed that “opponents of further EU enlargement are using Romania’s difficulties as ammunition in their battle to delay or prevent the accession of other relatively backward Balkan countries such as Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro.” Residents of at least the latter two countries might well take affront at being compared to Romania on the grand scale of backwardsness. Indeed, few really believe that Romania and Bulgaria, the latest successful candidates to join the bloc, were snapped up for any reasons other than their geostrategic location on the Black Sea and Europe’s periphery with Russia. Now Brussels is dealing with the not-so-hidden charges associated with that purchase.

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