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Success of EU Fifth Enlargement through prism of Bulgaria , Romania ’s progress in 1 1/2 year of membership

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On 23 July, with the most holiday - like month of the year approaching , and a year and a half after Bulgaria ’ s accession to the European Union, the government received a critical report from the European Commission on the country’s progress in Justice and Home Affairs . It reported on the lack of results in combating organized crime and corruption in high places. Besides, based on established European funds mismanagement, the decision of Brussels was made public to block hundreds of millions of euro from the pre-accession funds destined for Bulgaria, with the remark that once Sofia made the necessary steps for better financial management and control, the European Commission was ready to resume payments. This is money targeted at the improvement of the living standards of all Bulgarians , rather than at benefiting a handful of criminal business groups, as has been the case, including speculations for protection from the highest places in government. Against this background EC has also mentioned a few good things done by the country, such as the constitution of State National Security Agency, personnel changes in the Ministry of Interior, the appointment of a vice premier in charge of European funds management etc.

As the two reports for Bulgaria were made public , Socialist PM Sergei Stanishev and some cabinet ministers highlighted the positive estimation , and pointed out that there was political will for solving the crisis . The report and the financial sanctions were discussed at a council of the three-party government coalition.

„The European Commission report is objective”, PM Sergei Stanishev said. “It reflects both the progress made by Bulgaria and problems existing in reality which we have no right of turning a blind eye to. The stand of the ruling coalition is quite clear – in the coming 6 months and in the year ahead of the report due next summer, we have to pull ourselves together – all institutions, I mean – to make double efforts to be able to achieve greater and more tangible progress that will be judged on its merits by our society and by our European partners”.

The government is ready to pay for blocked money under EU projects from the budget, PM Stanishev vowed. He pointed out that his government was not faced with the political question of whether he should sacrifice a cabinet minister or two, but rather of what should be done to improve distribution of responsibilities and of systems for European financing absorption. „The report on European funds provides abundant evidence that the European Commission is losing trust in the capacity of the Bulgarian government to stick to European rules, so for this reason it blocks huge amounts”, believes Ivan Kostov, leader of the rightwing opposition party Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria and former prime minister /1997 – 2001/

„In this sense,” he said, “this report has been particularly disenchanting for the Bulgarian economy, for the Bulgarian agriculture and for the Bulgarian social policy, because Bulgaria now cannot base its development on the solidarity of the affluent European countries. In fact, without their solidarity its EU membership is worthless. The essential point of membership is in getting support for our development, once we have accepted to obey the rules, and to work to catch up with the well-to-do European countries. After all, Europeans are aware that the dramatic gap in living standards generates tensions – social, interstate ones, national, and can even generate terrorism. So for the sake of peace Europeans have consented to live in solidarity and make the continent prosperous and affluent. This precisely cannot happen to Bulgaria. Though it is the poorest country, Bulgaria is becoming a net donor. The Bulgarian Left cannot understand what the EU is telling it. This is a deep cultural and civilization disparity. What is needed is a boycott that will enable us to defend the reputation of this country and make it clear to the European Commission that not all Bulgarians are like the government.”

“The critical tone of voice of the European Commission to the government has not met with disapproval among Bulgarians. On the contrary, a recent poll of Alpha Research Agency has found that close to 40% of the polled approve of EC pressure on the government via financial sanctions. Public opinion has become radicalized, and political leaders seem void of any reputation after the EC report”, said sociologist Mira Yanova referring to the report’s findings.

“I can see that Bulgarian people have achieved a degree of solidarity in their demands addressed to the system of justice, to the government and to the Judiciary, and this in itself is a further argument supporting the position of the European Commission”, European Affairs Minister Gergana Grancharova commented for Radio Bulgaria.

Parallel to the EC Bulgaria reports, the report on Romania was also made public. Both new member countries from the EU Fifth Enlargement are still placed under special surveillance due to analogous problems on which the Commission expects to see some progress made. Radio Bulgaria called Luka Nikulescu, editor-in-chief of RFI Romania in a bid to find out about the response to the EC report in Bulgaria’s northern neighbor.

“We had two types of feedback. In the first place there was the official reaction of the Romanian authorities that said the report was balanced, fair and realistic pointing to progress made by Romania against corruption by recognizing the contribution of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate and of the newly founded National Agency for Integrity – a supreme police body monitoring the incomes of the political class in Romania. The reaction that came from the people was slightly different. Romanians believe that despite progress made and accounted for by the EC, problems in the system of Romania’s justice have not been fixed. What we see very often are very prolonged trials. Besides issuance of verdicts depends on the place where a trial is held. Verdicts are different contingent on whether the trial is in Brasov or in Bucharest. Also, there is a big problem with corruption in high places. People are aware that despite extensive media coverage over the recent years of the cases of corruption in high places, not even a single trial has closed with a verdict so far. In the meantime, dozens of incumbent or former cabinet ministers have been tried for malpractice or corruption, but trials against them have closed without them being sentenced”.

Why do you think the EC report on Romania’s progress is more positive than the one on Bulgaria?

„I think that both objective and subjective reasons are in place. Seen from outside the situation in Bulgaria actually looks worse compared to Romania. In Romania organized crime lacks in the scale that it has in Bulgaria. Besides, we have no problems with European funds mismanagement. So, Bulgaria has two problems to fix which are not relevant for Romania. On the other hand however, there is a more subjective dimension to this question. During talks with officials in Brussels it occurred to me that in fact, Romania had performed much better in presenting its papers. This implies that the Romanian authorities have been more successful lobbying for their cause compared to their Bulgarian counterparts”.

How do European citizens view the EU Fifth Enlargement through the prism of the problems of Bulgaria and Romania? The question is to Mrs. Juliana Nikolova, Director of the European Institute.

“Some time ago I discussed this topic in view of an interesting dispute. It occurred when the Fifth Enlargement report was submitted to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, and was about what wording to choose – ‘great success’ or just ‘success’. To the question from the host why just success, the answer was, ‘Look at Bulgaria and Romania’. I felt very sad then. Everybody is worried, and we have to get worried too, to allay their fears. If we have hit the bottom, we’d better shake off, as there is no other option left. Let us wait and see some political actions, not just words. The first reaction of an MP from the Socialist Party as he talked to a radio station, was that the report had accounted for the great progress made by Bulgaria. With such judgments we cannot possibly push back from the bottom. We have to see very clearly where precisely our problems are”.

“I am hardly surprised, and I even think that if I had written the report, criticism would have been even more scathing”, judge Nelly Kutskova, Spokesperson of the Union of Judges, said. “In any single entity of the judicial system there are things to fix, there are faults. Our judicial system is a bit strange in terms of its constitutional structure, because it encompasses the inquest, the prosecutor’s office and the courts of justice, and when it is reproached, it remains unclear who hasn’t done his job properly. People have a very sharp sense of lack of justice, of insecurity; they feel that criminals simply go unpunished. On the other hand however I have the sense of living in a parallel reality, because I fully share the discontent of society, while at the same time I see in court people who work on weekends, or till late at night; who neglect their families in a bid to do their job well. It seems that our efficiency is very unsatisfactory, because a lot of work is being done, but any results are absent. I think that we ought to carry out an analysis of the causes, so as to find out where and why efforts and resources go down the drain”.  

“I guess that the main point in the report is the hint that a very sharp critical civil energy is needed”, said media expert Associate Prof. Georgi Lozanov. “Hardly anything in our social world is acceptable, and the report cooperates with the social drama, though it has been written in a way that both says something and is careful not to give society a powerful shake. It could have been far more radical. This social drama is necessary, since it can generate certain civil energy”.

Can Bulgaria’s failure be interpreted as the failure of the EU Fifth Enlargement, thus putting an end to further enlargement?

“Yes, it can, because the old members and the EU have started to consider very carefully the point and meaning of integration”, Prof. Lozanov said further. “Integration is obviously not simply entering the bloc based on a bunch of papers. Much more serious and essential reasons are required for something to become an integral part of Europe. At present Bulgaria is not part of Europe – I mean a Europe viewed as a set of values. Bulgaria is part of breaking these values. The report makes that point clear”.

As criticism from Brussels addressed to Sofia and Bucharest intensifies, the opponents of the Union’s further enlargement obtain more powerful arguments. In what way will Bulgaria and Romania’s integration problems impact on the further enlargement process?

“Any social commotion inside the EU represents a challenge to its policies”, European Affairs Minister Gergana Grancharova said. “From this standpoint, problems in the judicial systems of some of the member-states; problems concerning European funds in some of the states; problems that have to do with a negative vote to constituent treaties all have the potential to generate tensions inside the bloc. However, I am convinced that when we talk about reform of such key systems like justice, or the sectors of security, we have to be aware that quality change is a long-term process. I am convinced that the more effective and better functioning the Union, the more audible the voice of those saying that EU enlargement should not stop. After all Bulgaria now has greater responsibility as a state that belongs to a region standing closest to the prospect of accession to EU, and this should double our ambition and motivation for reforming spheres, where we have failed to reach the European standards yet. The report is a very good and solid basis for some steps to make in the coming 6 months. However, unless sentences have taken effect in all trials and especially in the ones on which public opinion is particularly keen, we will all look guilty in this process”.

Is Bulgaria capable of restoring its positive image?

“We hardly have any alternative. I think that the good image of the country means good self-confidence of every Bulgarian citizen. Now the point is how fast we are going to make the measures that our partners expect from us, and how fast results will come. Beyond any doubt, any step in the right direction coupled with tangible results will produce the desired impact”.    

During the presentation of reports European Commission Spokesman Johannes Laitenberger repeatedly pointed out that criticism was not meant to discourage Sofia, but rather to encourage it to fix the problems as soon as possible. Brussels is aware that the Union cannot function normally and cannot display clearly the advantages of enlargement, unless its rules are duly observed across the bloc.  

Dear listeners, this program is broadcast by Radio Bulgaria, RFI – Romania and Yvelines Radio, France, media partners under the project Now – Interacting with the European Parliament, carried out by the European Institute, the Center for Policy Modernization and Gateway EUROPE.

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Written by: Iliyana Raycheva, Rumyana Tzvetkova, Veneta Nikolova

English version Daniela Konstantinova

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