The Bulgaria 2009 Review: Bulgaria in EU
Unfreezing and Absorbing EU Funds
Bulgaria’s Borisov Govt Stresses Unfreezing EU Funds, Regaining EU Trust
The government of Boyko Borisov and the GERB party, which took office in July 2009, declared “fixing” Bulgaria’s relations with the EU, and restoring the trust of the EU institutions in the Bulgarian authories a cornerstone of the GERB policies. The declaration came about a year after Bulgaria got the most negative monitoring reports in EU’s entire history, and based on the violations and corruption in Bulgaria identified in them the EC froze over EUR 800 M of EU funding to Bulgaria in the summer of 2008.
This was mostly cash from the “small”, pre-accession programs (PHARE, SAPARD, ISPA) but has also been viewed as an indicator of the problems Bulgaria was to have with absorbing the several billion euros it is entitled to receive by 2013 under the operational programs.
During his first visit to Brussels as Prime Minister in September 2009, Borisov met with EC President Barroso. It was then that the Commission announced the unfreezing of SAPARD program cash for Bulgaria, which has been hailed as a great success by GERB. Even though the new Bulgarian government enjoys more trust of the EU institutions, Bulgaria is still going to lose EU money as the pre-accession programs are about to expire.
In December, PM Borisov declared that Bulgaria had managed to win back the trust of Brussels, which has unfrozen more than EUR 1 B of aid since the new center-right government came into office. Earlier in December, the EC unfroze EUR 10,7 M of PHARE Program cash.
In November, the European Commission unblocked EUR 82,5 M in EU funding for Bulgaria under PHARE program, which was suspended last year for the country's failure to adequately tackle corruption. A total of EUR 340 M of contracted but unpaid aid were shelved after the Commission revoked the accreditation of the Central Finance and Contracts Unit of Bulgaria's Finance Ministry and the Executive Agency of the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works in July 2008. Brussels decision to unblock PHARE aid came after it released earlier in the year EUR 115 M of ISPA road funds and authorized payments of EUR 109,6 M blocked under the SAPARD agricultural program.
Nonetheless, Bulgaria will be unable to absorb much of the unfrozen EU funds because the deadlines for that are expiring. A report of the Bulgarian State Fund Agriculture has published in December, assessing the history and progress of the European Union’s SAPARD program in the country, said that lots of money remained unabsorbed when the final payment was issued on December 10. The "Special Accession Program for Agricultural and Rural Development" was launched in Bulgaria in 2001 and, with a one-year extension, expires at the end of 2009. Annulled funds for the seven years amounted to BGN 374 M. This amount remains unabsorbed by Bulgaria, and has been lost by the ending of the EU program.
The Big EU Cash from the Operational Programs?
In August-September, the European Commission rejected Bulgaria’s compliance assessments under the operational programs, which were prepared by the Stanishev government, and the GERB government has had to start crafting new assessments, which is bringing further delays. Borisov’s government is yet to prove that it can provide the administrative capacity to absorb several billion euros of EU aid by 2013.
Bulgaria’s New EU Commissioner Designate Rumiana Jeleva
Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister Jeleva Designated to Be EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner
In November, EC President Barroso nominated Bulgaria’s bidder, Foreign Minister Rumiana Jeleva, to become the new EU Commissioner on International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response. The Bulgarian government and Prime Minister Boyko Borisov had bidden for the EU Commission on energy or enlargement. Jeleva’s portfolio is brand new and includes close work with newly appointed EU High Representative on Foreign Policy, Catherine Ashton.
Rumors Turn Jeleva’s EU Commissioner Bid Problematic?
In order to be confirmed as Bulgaria’s new EU Commissioner, Rumiana Jeleva will have to pass a hearing at the European Parliament at the beginning of January.
However, in December indications have appeared that her bid might become problematic. First, the head of the EPP Group in the EP, Joseph Daul, and the head of the Greens Group, Daniel Cohn-Bendit reported that there had been negative rumors in the EU institutions about Jeleva and the activities of her husband, which could cast a shadow on her Commissioner nomination. Both
Later in December, the German paper Die Welt described Jeleva as the wife of a gangster saying that her husband, banker Krasimir Jelev had dealings with the Russian mafia and worked at the Central Cooperative Bank owned by the Varna-based corporation TIM, which is accused of crimes for which no evidence have been provided. The article refers to rumors describing Jeleva as incompetent and spiteful.
Jeleva has vowed to sue Die Welt for libel claiming that the rumors against her had been generated as part of an anti-Bulgarian campaign with the help of the Bulgarian Socialist Party.
EU Lisbon Treaty Enters into Force after Completion of Troubled Ratification
In December, the EU Reform Treaty, or as it is more famously known, the Lisbon Treaty entered into force. The Lisbon Treaty was singed on December 13, 2007, and its ratification took almost two years. The Lisbon Treaty increases the qualified majority voting fields in the EU including the removal of national vetoes in a number of areas such as the fight against climate change, energy security and emergency aid. Unanimity remains in tax, foreign policy, defense and social security. The newly-introduced position of EU President includes a 2,5-year-term. The opportunity for leaving the EU is also stipulated in the Lisbon Treaty.
Ireland Ratifies EU Lisbon Treaty in 2nd Referendum with Sweeping 'Yes'
In October, the Irish voters ratified EU's Lisbon Reform Treaty in their second referendum reversing their "No" from June 2008. 67,1% of the eligible voters in Ireland voted in favor of the Lisbon Treaty, and 32,9% voted against. The voter turnout was 59%. In Ireland's first referendum on the EU Reform Treaty in June 2008, the Irish voters rejected it with 53,4% voting against, and 46,6% voting in favor. The Irish voted in favor of the treaty only after in June they got several opt-outs in key areas such as taxation, military neutrality, and abortion.
Czech President Klaus Signs, EU Lisbon Treaty Ratified
In November, Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus signed EU's Lisbon Treaty, thus completing its long-awaited ratification as the Czech Republic was the last EU member state to ratify it. The news came just hours after it became clear that the Czech Constitutional Court had ruled that the EU Reform Treaty was compatible with the Czech Constitution. Klaus’s signature of the Lisbon Treaty ratification came after the previous week the EU Council granted the Czech Republic an opt-out from the Charter of basic rights.
Bulgaria without Nominees for EU President, High Representative
Bulgaria did not nominate any candidates for the positions of President of the EU and High Representative on Foreign Police, which were introduced by the Lisbon Treaty. PM Borisov rejected the nomination of former Tsar Simeon Saxe-Coburg for EU President put forth by former Foreign Minister Solomon Passy. Borisov has stated that Bulgaria was in good relations with each of the top bidders for EU President.
Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy Becomes 1st EU President
In November, Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy was selected by EU leaders as the first President of the European Union under the Lisbon Treaty. Rompuy’s election to the new top EU job occurred at the special summit of the 27 EU heads of state. He is seen as a low key consensual politician with a reputation of a coalition builder. He is reported to have enjoyed the crucial support of the France and Germany for the top EU job. Rompuy assumed office with the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty on December 1, 2009.
UK Commissioner Catherine Ashton Becomes EU Foreign Policy High Representative
At the same summit, EU Commissioner for trade, UK’s Catherine Ashton was selected by the EU leaders as the first High Representative for Foreign Policy of the European Union under the Lisbon Treaty. After the UK dropped the bid of Tony Blair for EU President, it persuaded the other six leaders in the socialist group to back Baroness Ashton.
EU President Van Rompuy: Bulgaria Is on Right Track
In December, Bulgaria welcomed the first President of the European Union, Herman van Rompuy, shortly after he assumed office. President Rompuy stated in Sofia he believed Bulgaria was “on the right track.” He praised the GERB government for its efforts in the various spheres.
EC Monitoring Report Slams Bulgaria Again, Recognizes Some Progress
In July, the 2009 Report of the European Commission under the mechanism to monitor Bulgaria's post-accession progress once again criticized the country for failing to crack down on high-level corruption and organized crime. The Commission's so called Progress Report assessing fighting corruption and organized crime, and judicial reform in Bulgaria since July 23, 2008, did recognize that some progress has been made in some areas such as the recognition of organized crime and corruption problems and the restructuring of the prosecution service. However, the 2009 monitoring report sounded much like the one from July 2008 which led to the freezing of hundreds of millions of EU funds for the country.
Cooperation with EU Party Families
Borisov and the European People’s Party
Borisov and his GERB party have enjoyed the firm backing of the European People’s Party. Borisov himself has been endorsed by top right-wing EU leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarcozy, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was also the first foreign leader to visit Sofia after Borisov took over. In December, Bulgaria’s EU Commissioner-Designate Jeleva was elected one of the EPP Deputy Chairs.
Bulgaria PM Asks EPP for Help on EU Funds, Eurozone Accession
In December, Bulgaria’s Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, addressed the Congress of the European People’s Party in Bonn, Germany, asking the EU rightists for support on the unfreezing of blocked EU funds and on Eurozone accession.
European Socialists Deeply Concerned about Bulgarian Colleagues
In December, the Party of European Socialists stated it was becoming more and more concerned about its Bulgarian member BSP. The PES leader Paul Nyrup Rasmussen said the source of the alarm was the proposal of the new Bulgarian rightist government to outlaw the Socialist party. Bulgarian MEP from the BSP, Kristian Vigenin, was elected member of the Presidium of the European People’s Party.
Bulgaria Provides Meager EUR 40 000 for EU Climate Change Fund
In December, it became clear that Bulgaria will be the member state with the smallest contribution to the EU climate change fund. It is going to provide EUR 40 000 of the EUR 7,2 B promised by EU leaders over the next three years, to help developing nations adapt to climate change. Bulgaria Prime Minister Boyko Borisov announced that the first EUR 20 000 would be given to the fund in 2011. He said the contribution was symbolical but still counted as Bulgaria could not afford to provide more.
In October, Bulgaria and nine other states from Central and Eastern Europe succeeded in agreeing on more beneficial terms with regards to climate change during the European Council in Brussels. The Eastern European states wanted guarantees they would not become donors to countries like China, India, Russia and Brazil.
Swedish EU Presidency Brings Progress in All Spheres
The Swedish Presidency of the European Union has managed to lead the EU forward in all of major spheres of cooperation, according to Sweden’s Ambassador to Bulgaria, Paul Beijer. His Excellency outlined three major achievements of the Swedish EU Presidency: completing successfully the ratification and the entering into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU-wide measures against the effects of the global financial and economic crisis, and the crafting of a joint EU position on climate change in preparation for the UN Summit in Copenhagen.
Czech EU Presidency Does Well despite International, Domestic Crises
The Czech Presidency of the EU was challenged by a number of serious crises - the gas conflict between Russia and the Ukraine in January, the conflict in the Gaza Strip, the global financial crisis, as well as by a governmental crisis in the Czech Republic itself, which led to the changing of cabinets in the middle of the Presidency term. Czech Ambassador to Bulgaria Martin Klepetko has pointed to the start of eliminating barriers, the coping with the Russian gas crisis, and proceeding with overall EU agenda as successes.
EU Integration of the Western Balkans
Serbia Formally Applies for EU Membership
In December, Serbia formally submitted its application to join the European Union. Serbian President Boris Tadic traveled to Stockholm to hand the application to Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, holding the rotating Presidency.
Croatia Edges Closer to EU Membership
In December, Croatia announced the provisional closing of two EU negotiation chapters and confirmed its aim of ending pre-accession talks by the middle of 2010. Of the 35 chapters that need to be completed, 17 have now been closed.
EU Puts off Setting Date for Macedonia Accession Talks
In December, the EU decided to postpone announcing a date for the start of the accession talks of Macedonia (FYROM) through a compromise designed to avoid a Greek veto over the so called “name dispute” between Greece and Macedonia. The Foreign Ministers of the 27 states have agreed that to leave the decision for a start date of Macedonia’s accession talks to be considered during the Spanish EU Presidency in the first half of 2010. The postponement of a date has helped avoiding a Greek veto on Macedonia’s EU accession negotiations. Greece already vetoed Macedonia’s accession to NATO over the name dispute.
EU Visa-Free Travel Starts for Serbia, Montengro, Macedonia
Starting in December, Citizens of Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro can travel visa-free to all countries that have signed the Schengen Agreement – which is most of the EU. The citizens of the three former Yugoslav republics who hold biometric passports will not need visas to enter the borderless Schengen Area. The visa waiver follows measures by the three would-be EU members to beef up border security and tackle crime. The UK still requires visas, because it is outside the Schengen agreement. Slovenia and Croatia gained visa-free travel shortly after their independence in 1991, but for the other republics, the regulations remained in place.
Bulgaria Gets Additional EUR 300 M of EU Nuclear Decommissioning Aid
In the fall of 2009, the Borisov government secured EUR 300 M of additional compensations that Bulgaria for the early closure of units 3 and 4 of the Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant.
Bulgaria Backs EC President Barroso for 2nd Term
As early as the spring of 2009, Bulgaria’s government led by then PM Sergey Stanishev endorsed incumbent European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso for a second term.
Barroso was later backed by Bulgaria’s new government of Boyko Borisov as well, which applauded his appointment in September 2009.
Economist Ranks Bulgaria Kuneva among Top 10 EU Commissioners
In September, The Economist magazine ranked Bulgaria’s outgoing EU Commissioner, Meglena Kuneva, among the top 10 out of 27 Commissioners.
Bulgaria’s Outgoing EU Commissioner Gets Surprise Job Offer by Barroso
In December, Bulgaria's outgoing European Commissioner Meglena Kuneva has expressed genuine surprise at reports over a job offer by EC President Jose Manuel Barroso, according to which she would be the next head of the Bureau of European Policy Advisers, an internal Commission political think-tank. The news was reported by the French financial newsletter La Lettre de l'Expansion.
European Commission Sues Bulgaria over Poor Waste Disposal
In November, the European Commission announced it would pursue court action against Bulgaria over Bulgaria’s failure to properly implement EU waste law; the measure comes two years after it launched an infringement procedure on the issue. The case concerns inadequate waste disposal in the capital Sofia, which should have had an adequate network of waste disposal installations in place by the time of its accession on 1 January 2007 but a solution remains some years away, the Commission said. This is the first trial launched by the European Commission against the EU newcomer. Sofia's failure to improve its waste management infrastructure was one of the six issues on which the European Commission launched infringement procedures against Bulgaria at the end of October 2007. As Bulgaria failed to address the European executive's concerns, the matter has been referred to the European Court of Justice, the highest judiciary authority in the bloc, which the country joined in January, 2007. The trial against Bulgaria in the European Court of Justice is expected to last at least two years. It will be suspended provided that the country manages to deal with the shortcomings. Prime Minister and former Sofia mayor Boyko Borisov threw the blame on former Socialist head of government Sergey Stanishev, saying Stanishev deliberately sabotaged his attempts to deal with the garbage problems in the capital.
Bulgaria’s Environment Minister Nona Karadzhova has reacted by saying that perhaps the European Commission did not consider with sufficient care the evidence for the executed work that had been presented to it, including the fact that there were no environmental issues with the handling of household waste in Sofia.
Bulgaria's 2008 GDP per Capita 60% below EU Average
Bulgaria’s 2008 GDP per capita expressed in purchasing power parity standards was only 41% of the EU average, according to Eurostat data. Thus, Bulgaria is ranked on the last 27th spot in the EU. Romania is 26th with 47% of the EU average. Compared to non-EU member states, Bulgaria fares worse than Turkey (46%), Croatia (63%), and Montenegro (43%) of the EU 2008 average GDP per capita. Compared to the previous two years, in 2008 Bulgaria registered improvement as its per capita PPS GDP was 36% of the EU average in 2006, and 38% in 2007.
Bulgaria PM Ranked 24th out of 27 EU State Leaders
In December, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov was ranked 24th out of all state leaders of the 27 EU member state in a ranking organized by the French newspaper “La Tribune.” The annual ranking of La Tribune evaluates the performance of the 27 EU state leaders through a survey of leading European media.
Bulgaria PM Borisov Gets Award of Taxpayers Association of Europe
In November, Bulgaria's Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, was presented the 2009 Award of the Taxpayers Association of Europe. Bulgaria’s Prime Minister was awarded for his efforts to improve the taxation and investment environment in Bulgaria, and to overcome the country’s issues which had resulted in the loss of EU funds and lack of trust on part of the EU institutions, according to the Secretary General of the Association, Michael Jaeger.
Bulgaria Vows to Join Schengen Agreement in 2011
In September, Bulgaria’s Interior Affairs Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, has pledged to speed up the country's preparations to join the Schengen Zone, Europe's passport-free travel zone, in order to join the agreement in 2011. The Bulgarian Minister has been assured that the Schengen process will not be tied with the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, a view that has been vocally promoted by some of the harshest critics of Bulgaria in the European Union, such as the Netherlands. The news comes a month after a report of the European Commission suggested that an entry into the Schengen zone is not a likely prospect in the near future of Bulgaria even though there was no direct mention of its ambition to do so. Currently, Bulgarian citizens are allowed visa-free entry into the Schengen system and there is eased access to Bulgaria for Schengen visa holders, but the country is not a full member of the system.
New Bulgaria Cabinet Scraps Minister on European Affairs
In July 2009, the GERB government decided to do away with the previously existing position of a Minister on EU Affairs. The position was transformed into that of a Deputy Foreign Minister in charge of EU affairs.
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