[JURIST] Germany took over the six-month rotating European Union [official website] presidency with the New Year on Monday, promising to put the stymied European constitution [official website; JURIST news archive] back on the regional bloc's agenda. In a statement posted on the new German EU presidency website, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said "If Europe is to remain able to act, it needs a constitutional treaty. Here we are keen to make a contribution and will be consulting closely with our European partners in this connection. By the end of our Presidency we hope to have a road map showing how a constitutional treaty can become reality across Europe." Although in anticipation of the German presidency Merkel announced her intent to set a timetable for constitutional ratification in October, responses have been lukewarm [JURIST reports] in some quarters, especially from aspirants in the upcoming French presidential elections. Consideration of the charter has been on hold since it was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands [JURIST reports] last year.
Also Monday, Bulgaria and Romania [EC materials] officially became the EU's newest members after six years of accession negotiations. The January 1, 2007, entrance date had been set for the former Eastern bloc nations since 2005 [JURIST report], but the EU had issued warnings [JURIST report] that accession could be delayed if corruption and human rights violations were not addressed. After efforts to comply to EU standards [JURIST report], the EU approved the 2007 entry [EC press release] of the countries in September of 2006. The European Commission has emphasized that both nations will be expected to show additional progress in the areas of "judicial reform, [the] fight against corruption and organised crime," to be demonstrated through biannual progress reports. Failure to comply could result in EU intervention and potential loss of economic aid under Articles 36 to 38 of the Act of Accession [text], which lay out safeguard mechanisms [EC materials] in the event of problems posing a threat to the functioning of the Union. AP has more.
Monday's accession brings 30 million new members to the EU and raises the total number of Union nations to 27. The current Nice Treaty [EC materials] requires that institutional changes be implemented once the bloc reaches 27 members, and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso suggested in September that the EU temporarily halt membership enlargement [JURIST report] after Bulgaria and Romania join while the EU works to resolve institutional and constitutional problems.