As a curtain-raiser to next week's big decision on Turkey, this week's sudden decision to close negotiations with Romania stands as a warning of how things can go wrong.

Despite persistent concerns over Romania's readiness - particularly in the most sensitive areas of competition and of justice and home affairs - the Member States decided to go with the flow, and allow the long-foreseen ceremonial formal closure at the December summit.

The political arguments for anchoring Romania's still-developing institutions into the European Union framework are, of course, still as strong as they were when Romania applied for membership in 1995, and when negotiations were opened in 2000.

But the European Commission warned only last week of continuing serious non-compliance: its reservations were so serious that it took the unusual step of not recommending closure of the competition chapter.

To try to ensure some teeth in the last-minute compromise agreed between the EU and Romania, the deal is accompanied by a specific safeguard clause covering these last two chapters.

But this suffers from the same weakness as another general safeguard already imposed on Romania and Bulgaria. It threatens deferring accession from the target date of 2007 to 2008 if there is inadequate compliance with reform commitments made.

Once the Summit has...

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