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Comprehensive Monitoring Report

Bulgaria, by its geopolitical situation in South-East Europe, constitutes an interface between the European Union (EU) and Balkan as well as Black Sea regions. After the fall of the Berlin wall and the emergence of a democratic regime, Bulgaria very soon established diplomatic relations with the EU in 1989. In 1990, it signed a Trade and Co-operation Agreement with the EU. In 1993, a far-reaching Association Agreement called “Europe Agreement” which already indicated Bulgaria's goal of becoming a member of the EU. This agreement, which created a free trade zone between Bulgaria and the Member States, was already part of the strategy of the EU to prepare Bulgaria for accession, which also included substantial financial and technical assistance.

In 1993 in Copenhagen, the Member States decided that associated countries in Central and Eastern Europe that so desired could become members of the European Union once they met the necessary economic and political conditions. This led Bulgaria to submit, in 1995, its application for membership. Accession negotiations were opened in February 2000 together with Romania and with several other countries which joined the Union in 2004. This is why Bulgaria is part of the fifth enlargement process that successfully brought ten countries into the EU in May 2004. Bulgaria’s accession process contributes to secure democracy, stability and economic development in Europe. This is in line with the fundamental aims of the European project to make Europe a place of peace and prosperity and to overcome the divisions of the past.

Accession negotiations were closed in December 2004 with the objective of welcoming Bulgaria as a Member State in January 2007. The Treaty of Accession was signed by the 25 Member States and Bulgaria and Romania in April 2005. The ratification process by the Member States is on-going. Bulgaria has already ratified it.

The Commission, as guardian of the Treaties, is now monitoring Bulgaria’s preparations for accession in order to ensure that this country can meet all the duties and requirements of a fully-fledged Member State by accession, in the interest of both current Member States and Bulgaria. This Comprehensive Monitoring Report presents the results of the Commission’s assessment of Bulgaria’s preparations for accession. It covers the political and economic reforms undertaken by Bulgaria to meet EU requirements as well as its implementation of the EU legal order which is to be respected by each and every Member State, the so-called acquis communautaire. The Report assesses the situation up to the end of September 2005.
The findings of this Report can be summarized as follows:

As regards the political requirements for membership, Bulgaria continues to meet them. Overall, it has reached a satisfactory level of compliance with EU requirements. However, despite progress, a number of shortcomings still exist. Enhanced efforts are needed to improve the functioning of the justice system, particularly as regards the pre-trial phase and the penal procedures, to address the problem of backlogs at courts and to combat efficiently organised crime and corruption. As regards human rights and the protection of minorities, further efforts are needed, in particular for the integration of the Roma minority.
Concerning the economic requirements for membership, Bulgaria continues to be a functioning market economy. The continuation of the current pace of its reform path should enable Bulgaria to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union. Bulgaria has maintained a high degree of macro-economic stability with strong economic growth, relatively low inflation and falling unemployment. However, in particular the business environment still needs further improvement.

Bulgaria has made very significant progress in aligning its legislation. Bulgaria should be able to assume the obligations of membership at the envisaged date of accession, provided that it accelerates its efforts to that end in a number of areas and that it focuses on strengthening its overall administrative capacity. The Report identifies three stages of preparations for accession:

• First, areas where Bulgaria is ready or where preparations are ongoing and which should be resolved by accession if the current pace of preparations is maintained. These include for example competition policy, the free movement of capital and payments, and culture and audio-visual policy.

• Secondly, areas where increased efforts are needed. Here the Bulgarian authorities are encouraged to better target their reform efforts to harmonize with EU requirements in the remaining period before accession. This covers for example the need to promote social inclusion or to ensure the full respect of EU standards in air and maritime transport and in relation to industrial pollution.

• Finally, a number of areas of serious concern requiring immediate action from Bulgaria so that it may reap the benefit from EU accession but also in order to preserve the balance of the Union. These areas include the ability to absorb European funds allocated to Bulgarian beneficiaries, the need to ensure a high level of food safety and to fight efficiently and in a pro-active manner corruption and organised crime. The Bulgarian authorities are strongly encouraged to spare no efforts to remedy the existing gaps without further delay.

The exact conclusions of the Report can be found in sections B.3, C.3 and D.3.

The Commission is supporting Bulgarian financially in its preparations for accession and will focus on measures to tackle the shortcomings identified in the Report. The total volume of pre-accession assistance available to Bulgaria is substantial, around EUR 545 million in 2006. It will be used for pre-accession programs.

The Accession Treaty envisages the accession of Bulgaria on 1 January 2007. It includes a number of provisions under which the Union may take action to prevent serious breaches of the functioning of the internal market or to deal with shortcomings in the field of cooperation in civil and criminal matters caused by Bulgaria. Other safeguards exist in the EU legal order. If there is clear evidence that the state of preparations for adoption and implementation of the legal order in Bulgaria is such that there is a serious risk of Bulgaria being manifestly unprepared to meet the requirements of membership in a number of important areas, then accession of Bulgaria may be postponed by one year.

The Commission will continue to monitor Bulgaria’s preparations and to encourage the country in its reform path in period leading up to accession in order to ensure a smooth integration into the EU.

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