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Friday 10 November 2006
organised by the West Kent branch in Sevenoaks

Bulgaria and the EU
Dr Stoimen Velev
Minister Plenipotentiary, Bulgarian Embassy, London

The West Kent branch of the European Movement organised an evening meal and talk by Dr Stoimen Velev at the Town Council Hall in Sevenoaks.
Michael Rider was among members from Sussex branch who were able to go to the event, and compiled this record of some of the points made by Dr Velev.

The formal accession on 1 January 2007 of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU is envisaged in the Treaty, signed in 2005. In September the Commission confirmed that Bulgaria and Romania may become members of the Union as of 1 January 2007.  The Commission however continues to monitor the work of the Bulgarian authorities to ensure that the required standards are going to be met on entry. Should Bulgaria fall short in any area safeguard clauses may be imposed as part of the eventual accession arrangements.
Bulgaria has achieved much in its preparation over the eleven years since its application to join the Union. The country now has functioning democratic institutions, a market economy, a modern social welfare system that includes legislation for childcare, the disabled and minorities, and as in Ireland an agreement between the government and its social partners for co-operation in policy making. The economy has grown over the last few years at 5 to 6% per year; foreign investment for the first half of the year has reached €1.7bn, and unemployment - recently at 8.4% - is the lowest since 1991. Forecasts for 2007 are for economic growth at 5.8%. In 2007 there will be pay rises of 10% for civil servants and a general pension increase of 8.5%. Tourism should continue to expand – there were 4.5m visitors to Bulgaria (total population around 8 million) in the first nine months of 2006.

The EC requires further improvements in the following areas:
legislative reform, the fight against corruption and organised crime; adequate measures to administer effectively EU Funds. In the context of legislative reform the country’s Constitution will be amended.

The challenges are:
the incorporation into Bulgarian law of more than 140,000 pages of acquis communautaire.

upgrading of the country’s administrative capacities to cope with the implementation of the acquis.
bringing the Union closer to the citizens; campaigns to publicise the benefits of adhesion to the EU, and to explain the rights and obligations of EU citizens.

Bulgaria would bring the following to the wider EU:
increased stability on the Union’s eastern border; Bulgaria is a member of NATO; a tradition of tolerance among its varied ethnic and social groups.
an increase overall in the size of the internal EU market.
potential diversification of energy supplies for the EU; through development of its own energy programme as well as using the advantages of its good geographical situation
its wider historical and cultural links, and good neighbour policies, with countries from the region and with the former Soviet countries on its eastern border which are now independent.
a positive role in helping the Balkan states prepare for EU membership.

continued in right-hand column

(continued from column 1)

In reply to questions –

Since the 1980s English has been the predominant foreign language taught; earlier German and French were more important.
The ruling coalition consists of the Bulgarian socialist party, Movement for Rights and Liberties and the NMSS.
  It took some time in 2005 to establish a coalition with a strong enough majority in the Parliament.
In foreign policy Bulgaria has good relations with the US. Relations with Russia have been improving during recent years.

The benefits of EU membership are multiple for Bulgaria and the majority of the population is strongly pro-EU. Bulgarians see themselves as rejoining the European family. The EU is seen a providing stability and a framework of common values, and though the economy is not the main driver there will be economic catch up through EU Structural Funds.
Estimates are for less than 2000 Bulgarian work seekers in the UK after accession; under earlier legal agreements there are already Bulgarians working in the UK and other EU states.  Bulgaria has a good education system - there are no major concerns over a potential brain drain since many Bulgarians, for example those working in the US as IT specialists, are expected to return home in due course.
Bulgaria’s Black Sea coastline has an agreeable climate; in recent years, with 95% of the tourist industry in private hands, there has been a certain amount of disfiguring coastal development. Since 2005 tighter planning regulations are providing more effective controls.
Bulgaria supports the entry of Turkey into the EU. Bulgaria would support its neighbours in their accession to the EU.  Its traditional cultural and economic ties with Moldova and Ukraine, as well as new states even further east, should help to implement the new ''neighbourhood'' policy of the Union.

We regret that the earlier report of Dr Velev's speech included two errors.

We said that "The present head of government is King Simeon with a mandate for 4 years; he governs with a coalition including the Socialists and the Turkish minority party.” This is not correct.  Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha is a former Prime Minister and is the leader of the Simeon II National Movement. The present Prime Minister is Sergei Stanishev. We also said that there were 400,000 pages of acquis communautaire when in fact Dr Velev said there were 140,000 pages of acquis communautaire.

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