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Briefing No 6
Bulgaria and the Enlargement of the European Union

The views expressed in this document are not necessarily those held by the European Parliament as an institution.


IV. RELATIONS WITH THE EU

Bulgaria applied for membership of the European Union on 18 December 1995. In its opinion on Bulgaria's application delivered in July 1997, the Commission recommended, on the basis of the Copenhagen criteria, that Bulgaria should not be in the first group of countries with whom negotiations should be opened. Although it was recognised as being on track as far as meeting the political criteria was concerned, the opinion concluded that Bulgaria had made only slow progress on the economic front. On the basis of the second regular report of the Commission, Bulgaria, along with five other countries, was invited at the Helsinki summit in December 1999 to start negotiations for membership. The substantive negotiations started in March 2000.

a. Commission

For information on the Commission Opinion of July 1997, please consult the previous document PE 167.392/rev.1. The same document also contains information about the Accession Partnership, adopted in early 1998. The Accession Partnership was updated for 1999 taking into account developments in Bulgaria and the analysis in the 1999 Regular report of progress made towards membership.

(For the Accession Partnership update of February 2000 please consult the full text: http://europa.eu/comm/enlargement/docs/index.htm).

Regular Reports

In November 1998, the European Commission published its first regular report on progress made towards accession by Bulgaria, followed in October 1999 by the second regular report. In its conclusions, the second report calls for further efforts to strengthen the rule of law and protect human and minority rights, notably to implement decisions in respect of the Roma. The fight against corruption and improving the functioning of the legal system are also singled out for attention, although the report does acknowledge substantial progress in the area of justice and home affairs.

The report notes Bulgaria's continued "progress in establishing a functioning market economy" while concluding that "further steps are needed and it is not yet in a position to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union in the medium term. Priority should be given to completing privatisation and accelerating restructuring of the enterprise and banking sectors."

While welcoming Bulgaria's efforts to put in place key elements of internal market legislation, the report emphasises "the continuing need to pay particular attention to the capacity of the administration to implement and enforce legislation".

The report sees "no significant improvement in the area of state aids". Despite progress noted in alignment in agriculture, problems of implementation are cited, as well as the need for increased veterinary inspection and the speeding up of land restitution. While acknowledging the important steps taken towards establishing a basis for regional policy, the report notes less progress in the social sector and, despite legislative progress in environment, cites the lack of an overall strategy and sectoral strategies as problematic. Some steps forward in energy policy are contrasted with the lack of progress by Bulgaria to commit itself to a realistic timetable for the closure of units 1-4 at Koslduy nuclear power station.

While welcoming the adoption of a civil service law and important progress in establishing the legal framework for setting up institutions to apply EU legislation, the report points out the extent to which the shortage of human and financial resources has hampered them in effectively implementing the acquis.

(For the full text of the Report please consult: http://europa.eu/comm/enlargement/docs/index.htm).

Assistance programmes

Bulgaria has benefitted from the PHARE programme since 1990. Under the new SAPARD facility for agricultural and rural development, Bulgaria has an annual indicative allocation of ¬ 52 124 000 over the period 2000 to 2006. The Bulgarian national plan was endorsed in the STAR Management Committee in September 2000 opening the way for the launch of specific programmes. Bulgaria will also be able to apply for infrastructure assistance under the ISPA instrument within an indicative 8%-12% range of the total ¬ 1040 million annual budget.

b. European Parliament

When the Parliament considered its opinion on the Commission's Agenda 2000 and Opinions on the applications for membership, it was the view of the House that the enlargement process should be as inclusive as possible. On 4 December 1997, the Parliament adopted a "Resolution on the Communication from the Commission 'Agenda 2000 - for a stronger and wider Union'" (C4- 0371/97). The resolution states that Parliament " believes that all countries which do at present meet the criterion of a stable democratic order, respect for human rights and the protection of minorities laid down at Copenhagen, have the right to open the reinforced accession and negotiating process at the same time, and that this process should begin for all these countries early in 1998." Having stressed that the process should be inclusive, the resolution affirmed the Parliament's belief "that intensive negotiations on an individual basis should begin with the countries which have made the most progress and - while noting some factual inaccuracies - supports the Commission's evaluations of which these countries presently are". Specifically on Bulgaria, the resolution "considers that Bulgaria has recently made substantial efforts towards transition to a market economy, although decisive measures still need to be taken in the spheres of the environment, transport, agriculture, energy and justice; considers that a wide-ranging administrative reform at all levels is also needed if the acquis communautaire is to be applied properly." It also "stresses Bulgaria's compliance with the main political criteria and in this sense is convinced that the opening of negotiations would promote and encourage continuation of the reforms undertaken and would prevent the Bulgarian people feeling excluded, whilst reaffirming the Union's presence in a region of great instability."

The Parliament also stressed the importance of the European Conference, seeing it "as an essential instrument for political cooperation".

The EU-Bulgaria Joint Parliamentary Committee held its 10th meeting on 5-6 July 2000. It concluded that the rapid pace of the enlargement negotiating process proved that Bulgaria has the capacity to effectively play its full part in the negotiations. The Committee noted the concensus in the Bulgarian Parliament for EU membership and the creation of a new standing committee, the Council on European Issues, to assess legislative priorities and check compliance of draft legislation with the acquis. The Joint Committee acknowledged the Bulgarian economy's resumed growth and called for development of a favourable business climate, efforts to overcome structural unemployment, social protection as the accompaniment to economic reform, and the maximisation of transparency in restructuring and privatising state monopolies. It welcomed the start of the implementation phase of the new framework programme for the re-integration of the Roma population. The Committee urged further action to fight corruption and improve institutional capacity, notably by strengthening the judiciary. It recognised the plan to upgrade border protection to Schengen standards by the end of 2001 as a valuable ambition while highlighting the practical difficulties to be overcome.

In the context of the annual debate on enlargement which the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament decided to hold as of the first October 2000 plenary session, the Committee on Foreign Affairs adopted on 14 September a series of country reports as well as a global report on enlargement. The report on Bulgaria was drafted for the committee by Geoffrey Van Orden.

c. Council of Ministers

Following the conclusion of the Intergovernmental Conference in Amsterdam in June 1997, the Council, meeting in Luxembourg in December 1997, decided to "launch an accession process comprising the ten central and eastern European applicant states and Cyprus". In addition, the Council "decided to convene bilateral intergovernmental conferences in the spring of 1998 to begin negotiations with Cyprus, Hungary, Poland, Estonia, the Czech Republic and Slovenia on the conditions for their entry into the Union and the ensuing Treaty adjustments". The enlargement process was duly launched in London on 12 March 1998, with the first European Conference.

At Helsinki in December 1999, the European Council "decided to convene bilateral intergovernmental conferences in February 2000 to begin negotiations with Romania, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Malta on the conditions for their entry into the Union and the ensuing Treaty adjustments." It stressed that "in the negotiations, each candidate State will be judged on its own merits. This principle will apply both to opening of the various negotiating chapters and to the conduct of the negotiations. In order to maintain momentum in the negotiations, cumbersome procedures should be avoided. Candidate States which have now been brought into the negotiating process will have the possibility to catch up within a reasonable period of time with those already in negotiations if they have made sufficient progress in their preparations. Progress in negotiations must go hand in hand with progress in incorporating the acquis into legislation and actually implementing and enforcing it."

Negotiations

Substantive accession negotiations started at deputy level on 28 March 2000 with a second session on 25 May. Negotiations with Bulgaria started on six chapters of the acquis communautaire: small and medium sized enterprises; science and research; education, professional training and youth; external economic relations; cultural and audio-visual policy; and common and security policy. At the Second Accession Conference at Ministerial level on 14 June four chapters were provisionally closed, with culture and audiovisual policy expected to be closed following adoption of changes to the law regulating radio and TV broadcasting. The main obstacle to closing the chapter on external relations is Bulgaria's insistence on maintaining its recently signed agreements with FYROM covering free trade and other areas deemed incompatible with EU membership, at least until the EU concludes a stabilisation and association agreement with FYROM. Bulgaria has also presented position papers on Statistics, Telecommunications, Consumer Protection and Health, Industrial Policy, Company Law and Competition Policy.

d. Position of the Bulgarian Government

The Bulgarian government considers accession to the EU an important strategic objective, which will help increase prosperity, and strengthen the rule of law and the role of the market economy.

It welcomed the decision to have as inclusive an enlargement process as possible, but accepted that accession was not a single political act, but a lengthy process demanding the mobilisation of the whole of Bulgarian society in its effort to embrace European values.

Noting the significant achievements made at the end of the first phase of the negotiations in June 2000, the Bulgarian Foreign Minister stressed Bulgaria's resolve to keep the process of alignment with the acquis on track and to translate the commitments given during the negotiations into national legislation. On the specific chapters still open, the Bulgarian Government was confident the amendments to the Radio and Television Law would soon be approved and hoped that rapid progress would be made under the French Presidency towards the successful conclusion of a stabilisation and association agreement with FYROM.

* * * * *

Sources: Economist Intelligence Unit, BBC Monitoring Service, Bulgarian Radio, Bulgarian News Agency, Oxford Analytica Data Base, European Economy — Economic Reform Monitor

(European Commission), Radio Free Europe , Reuters

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Annexes:

1. Government List

2. External Trade of Bulgaria 1991-1999

Share of EU in External Trade of Bulgaria 1991-1999

3. Basic Statistics for Applicant Countries in Central and Eastern Europe

Annex 1

GOVERNMENT LIST AT 24 MAY 2000
President**.Peter STOYANOV
Vice-president** (**Sworn in 19 Jan 97, took office 22 Jan)Todor KAVALDZHIEV
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CABINET: (Formed 21 May 97, reshuffled 21 Dec 1999)
Prime Minister (Also Minister of State Administration)Ivan KOSTOV
Deputy Prime Minister (Also Minister of Economy)Petar ZHOTEV
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MINISTERS:
Agriculture & ForestsVentsislav VARBANOV
CultureEma MOSKOVA
DefenceBoiko NOEV
Ecology & WaterEvdokia MANEVA
EconomyPetar ZHOTEV
Education & ScienceDimitar DIMITROV
FinanceMuravei RADEV
Foreign AffairsNadezhda MIHAILOVA
HealthIlko SEMERDZHIEV
InteriorEmanuil YORDANOV
JusticeTeodossyi SIMEONOV
Labour & Social Care PolicyIvan NEIKOV
Regional Development & Public WorksEvgeni CHACHEV
State AdministrationIvan KOSTOV
Transport & CommunicationsAntoni SLAVINSKI
Without PortfolioAlexander PRAMATARSKI
- - - - - - -
Parliamentary SpeakerYordan SOKOLOV
- - - - - - -
Central Bank GovernorSvetoslav GAVRIISKI

Annex 2

Bulgaria

Annex 3

Bulgaria
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© Enlargement: 2000-09-25