Werner Weidenfeld: EU Has No Money to Waste for Bulgaria
Interview with Prof Dr Dr h c Werner Weidenfeld, professor of political science at Munich University, Germany. He is a Director of the Center for Applied Policy Research in Munich. Member of a number of prestigious organizations, including the International Research Council of the "Center for Strategic and International Studies" Washington, the Board of the Bertelsmann Foundation, Gütersloh, Associated Member of the "Club of Rome".
Q: You recently described the accession of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007 as a huge mistake. Could you elaborate on that? In what way was the two countries' entry a mistake?
A: Generally speaking it was the right thing to do to let Bulgaria and Romania join the EU. Yet the decision was taken too early. The main reasons for Bulgaria's and Romania's entry to the European Union were political ones and were also a kind of award for the stability of both countries during the 1990ies. Problematic was the fact to announce their accession without checking if they fulfil the criteria for membership completely.
Q: What are the consequences of this mistake for Bulgaria, the other member states and the aspirants? Are there grounds for fears that the EU's Big Bang which was supposed to spread prosperity across the continent, is on the brink of becoming the Big Bust?
A: The immediate consequence for Bulgaria is obviously that it is today a full EU member state, but that it currently does not receive all the possible funds. The conclusions that the other EU member states drew from the cases of Romania and Bulgaria is that in future enlargement rounds, they will double-check if the candidates - mainly the states from the Western Balkans - fulfil the membership criteria completely. This is closely linked to the enlargement fatigue within the EU. But even though the process might be on hold right now, it does not mean that the EU can no longer guarantee prosperity on the continent. It tries to do so by offering aid to their neighbours regardless if they are a member, candidate or partner through various programmes such as the ENP, the Eastern Partnership or the Union for the Mediterranean.
Q: Brussels has frozen millions of euros in EU aid for Bulgaria as the government fails to comply with EU rules. How risky is that at these times of financial crisis?
A: The EU has no money to waste. Frankly speaking, in the Bulgarian case, you could say: take it or leave it. If Sofia isn't willing or able to comply with EU rules, the aid will be further held back. Especially during times of a financial and economic crisis the Bulgarian government should take the responsibility and adhere to its commitments.
Q: How poor is Bulgaria's performance in absorbing EU funds compared to the records of the countries which joined in 2004?
A: It is not about absorbing funds from the EU. The question should rather be how efficiently these funds are used. And compared to the countries that joined the EU 2004 and to every other EU member state, Bulgaria's performance is rather poor, at least according to the EU Commission that has to assess such aspects.
Q: Should the European Union allot additional aid to Eastern European countries? Why?
A: What is certain is that the EU plans to increase funding for the countries participating in the Eastern Partnership that will be launched on May 7 on a summit in Prague up to EUR 600 million. So aid for the Eastern European countries will be made available.
Q: In times of economic stress, all eyes in Europe turn toward Germany, the continent's biggest and strongest economy. Will German Chancellor Angela Merkel pass this big test?
A: It is not the task of Angela Merkel alone to solve the crisis. Nor is it the task of Germany alone. Only if the EU works together the crisis can be solved. What Europe currently needs is a politician with visions and strong personality to tackle the problems. Despite her strong personality, Angela Merkel is currently not the best politician for such a task because she is in the middle of an election campaign. It can therefore be assumed that her strongest focus will not be on European but rather on German politics. Concerning the crisis management of Angela Merkel when it comes to the economy I have to say that she handles her duties and responsibilities very solidly and I am sure that she will continue to do so.
Q: What is Bulgaria's image in Germany? How can it be improved?
A: The image of Bulgaria in Germany depends on the people you speak to. While people that actually visited the country have a rather good image, the opinion about Bulgaria of the average person on the street is largely coined by the corruption in the country. The easiest way to improve this is to efficiently fight corruption in Bulgaria.
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