Prof. Venelin Tzachevski

Undoubtedly, Bulgaria's negotiations for membership to the European Union (EU), which started on February 15, 2000, marked the beginning of a new phase in the process of Bulgaria's integration into the European structures. It is known that this has been a priority of Bulgarian foreign policy since the democratic changes from the end of the 80's. In current circumstances emphasis is on the successful and speedy completion of the negotiations. Irrelevant of how long the negotiations will take, the international attitude towards Bulgaria has already changed - Bulgaria is perceived as a country that is negotiating for membership, rather than a candidate for membership to the EU. Favourable opportunities for expanding the cooperation with the EU, as well as for acquiring support for its preparation for full membership, will be available to Bulgaria. It will get an extended access to the preaccession, as well as to other EU programmes and funds. After 2000, Bulgaria will be getting 250 - 300 million Euro yearly for projects under the programmes Phare, ISPA and SAPARD. During his visit to Bulgaria at the start of this year, the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, declared that the total EU support for Bulgaria for the next 6 years will reach 1.8 billion Euro. The future lies in the further expansion of Bulgaria's involvement with the EU, resulting in greater involvement in the process of European integration and the creation of more favourable conditions for increasing Bulgaria's role in international relations. Bulgaria's ambition is to complete the negotiations with the EU as soon as possible. Initially, the government announced its expectations to do this by 2005, but this was soon deemed rather optimistic. After starting the negotiations, the Bulgarian government designated 2010 as a deadline for Bulgaria's accession to the EU. In more favourable circumstances the negotiations might finish by the end of 2006, which will clear the way to Bulgaria's membership to the EU in 2007.
However, the prognoses of the EU are more reserved - Bulgaria's membership to the EU is usually referred to the beginning of the next decade. For instance, the head of the Directorate General for EU Enlargement in the European commission, E. Landabaru, specified 2010 as a possible date for Bulgaria's accession to the EU. In a moment, when the actual negotiations are in the very beginning, each prognosis for their completion is provisional, and quite premature. In any case, their duration will depend on the combined influence of many national and international, economic and political factors and circumstances. However, it is obvious that the fulfilment of the economic criteria, which were approved by the EU in Copenhagen in 1993, will be of great significance for earlier accession to the EU. They concern all twelve states from Central and Eastern Europe which have started negotiations. A big challenge facing the next EU expansion is that, in reality, none of the ex-socialist candidate states has fulfilled the necessary economic criteria, and there is little chance they will do this in the near future. With this background Bulgaria has, comparatively, the most unfavourable position, and will have to go a long way to achieve the membership criteria. For instance, it has the lowest GDP per capita among the negotiating states. According to the head of the Delegation of the European Commission to Bulgaria, Jacques Vunenburger, Bulgaria will need at least 30 years to reach the average level of this indicator in the EU. Other estimates say 50 years. We must take into consideration that the invitation to start negotiations was largely politically motivated. But once the negotiations start, the attitude to Bulgaria will depend prevailingly on its economic achievements. This makes the efforts at overcoming the economic stagnation, the acceleration of economic reforms and the achievement of stable growth that will allow rapid catching up and the forming of an effective market economy extremely significant. The Bulgarian government reckons this is an attainable goal. For this year it projects a 4-percent real growth of the economy, which in favourable circumstances might be even higher. Regardless of whether such prognoses will come true, the role of this factor should not be overemphasised, as even at an increased pace of economic development, Bulgaria may hope to become a member within the desired term only in the event of an EU compromise on the economic criteria for accepting new countries. In the past, in some cases (Greece, Portugal and Spain) such compromises were made under the influence of politics. There are grounds to suggest that the EU will act in a similar way in the membership negotiations with the Central and Eastern European countries, Bulgaria included. The future expansion of the EU will most probably be in accordance with the change of foreign policy strategy of the EU, which is directed at providing a common European dimension to the integration process. The realities in Europe justify the one-way foreign policy interests of the EU and the states that are not members yet, which has been determined by the deepening internationalisation and globalisation in the international relations. It is, however, unrealistic to expect that in the name of political aims the EU member states will be ready to make great concessions in the negotiations with Bulgaria and the other candidate members. The European commission fears that the opposition to its rapid expansion eastwards has not been overcome, which requires taking on a more hardline approach in the negotiations and not accepting states if they have not fully fulfilled all necessary criteria. On the other hand, the perspective for Bulgaria's membership to the EU should be judged in the context of the process of differentiation within the EU, which becomes real as a result of the unequal degree of desired or possible participation of the individual states in the diverse directions and spheres of integration. The aims, formulated in the Maastricht (1993) and the Amsterdam (1997) Treaties, for building an economic and currency union and for the implementation of common foreign policy assisted the speeding up of this process. For Bulgaria, as well as all other negotiating states, future accession will be inevitably combined with a longer, or shorter, transition period in particular spheres. The Bulgarian government has already stated that it starts negotiations with the clear understanding that a 5- to 10-year transition period will be needed for Energy and the Environment. We can be sure it will include other sectors, too.
Bulgaria's negotiations for membership to the EU have a political, as well as an economic aspect. It seems the political criteria will soon include also defence policy, as the EU develops as an international structure for economic, foreign as well as defence policy. The military-political factors are slowly turning into one of the significant directions of integration. This responds to the aim of forming a common foreign and defence policy, formulated in the Maastricht and the Amsterdam Treaties. The President of the European Commission made a portentous statement recently, saying that any attack, or aggression against a member state will be taken as an attack or aggression against the entire EU.


This means that the future membership of Bulgaria to the EU will mean not just greater opportunities, but also greater responsibilities in foreign policy and security, just as it will be when eventually Bulgaria becomes a NATO member. Since 1995 Bulgaria has had a statute of an associated member in the West European Union (WEU), which plays a leading role in the military defence policy of the EU and is expected to merge with the EU by the end of 2002. In contrast to the economy, Bulgaria's participation in the military defence integration within the WEU and the EU does not require the fulfillment of rather difficult criteria. This is also proven by the fact that the issues on common foreign and defence policy were included in the first group of problems with which the negotiations for Bulgaria's membership to the EU began. The situation with the other non-economic spheres of negotiations is a bit different. Significant challenges exist in the acceptance of EU legislation. In this respect a certain progress was made before the start of the negotiations as Bulgaria harmonised two thirds of its legislation with that of the EU. Still, there is a lot to be done. Bulgaria has to adopt another 800 laws. The number will probably increase as a result of the further development of the EU integration process. To facilitate the achievement of this aim, a Council on European Issues was established in March this year. Its responsibilities are to ensure the rapid adoption of the necessary laws for Bulgaria's integration to the EU. The emphasis in this field will be increasingly placed on the successful implementation of the European legislation.
The negotiations for membership also place great requirements on the state and non-state institutions, which are being reorganised and are increasing their cooperation in accordance with the EU criteria. The negotiations determined the need for the creation of an institutional mechanism consisting of a Council of Integration, a Coordination Committee for Negotiations with the EC, a chief negotiator and specialised directorates in the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. An important role in this process is assigned to the Council on European Issues at the National Assembly, which has legislative and controlling functions. It is necessary to take into account that the EU itself is in the process of institutional reorganisation. By the end of the year a special intergovernmental conference must decide on the necessary changes in the voting processes, the powers and the representation of the individual states in the EU bodies. The readiness of the EU to accept new members is among the Copenhagen requirements and in the current circumstances is one of the decisive factors for the practical implementation of the EU expansion. The negotiations for Bulgaria's membership are dependent on when the EU member states will reach a satisfactory solution to this problem, which is expected to happen by the end of 2002. Due to its complexity, though, more time to reach a solution might be needed.
As an expression of the desire to speed up the negotiations, the Bulgarian government declared its wish to negotiate on a bigger number of membership issues than those initially announced by the European commission. The decision of the European commission from March 15 was that the negotiations with Bulgaria should start with 6 chapters - science and scientific reseach, education and vocational training, medium and small-size enterprises, foreign relations, foreign policy and security policy and culture and audiovision. In its turn, Bulgaria declares its readiness to start negotiations on a total of 12 chapters by June, and on another 5 of the 31 chapters, which encompass the entire complex of negotiations for membership to the EU, by the end of the year. The intentions of the Bulgarian government for an extremely speedy completion of the negotiations is clear. If this happens, it could reduce, and in most favourable circumstances, eliminate the difference between Bulgaria and the first group of Central and Eastern European countries, which started negotiations two years earlier. This, however, is hardly possible, as it would mean the simultaneous acceptance of more countries than the EU is ready to accept, in reality, in the near future.
When judging the perspectives for Bulgaria's membership to the EU, we have to consider that although led on an individual basis, the bilateral negotiations are part of a much broader process of parallel negotiations between the European Union and a number of other European countries. It is natural in these circumstances to expect a mutual influence of difficulties, encountered at different levels and phases of the negotiations, or of achieved progress, as well as of the occurrence of specific additional problems in comparison with the history of EU expansion until now. In contrast to the past, there now exist more serious challenges, resulting mainly from the bigger number of candidate counties and from the more strongly expressed disparity in the economic development between them and the EU. The way and especially the achievement of results from the negotiations between the EU and the first group of CEE countries will be of great significance for Bulgaria. In relation to this it is necessary to consider the fact that the aspiration of this group of countries to become members by 2002-2003 is practically impossible to achieve. It is more likely to happen by 2005, which has been mentioned as a possible date by the Eurocommissioner for the Enlargement G. Verheugen. With certainty, this will influence the timetable for completing Bulgaria's negotiations with the EU.
Another group of problems which will influence Bulgaria's negotiations for membership to the EU is the future development of the international relations, especially in Southeastern Europe, the eventual expansion of NATO, etc. Another important issue is whether the efforts to achieve stability and effective international co-operation, especially within the Stability Pact whose performance depends to a large extent on the involvement of the EU, will be successful. That is why the Bulgarian government naturally binds the implementation of the Stability Pact to Bulgaria's negotiations for membership to the EU. This is one of the priorities in the national foreign policy after the invitation to start negotiations was received and it will determine to what extent the Bulgarians will really feel the positive consequences from the deepening integration relations of Bulgaria with the EU.
So the perspective for Bulgarian membership to the EU will depend not just on the country's own efforts, but also on the influence of a number of outside factors, which are not unquestionably favourable to Bulgaria. In any case, in the process of negotiations Bulgaria will face the challenge of defending its national interests. This will be difficult due to the actual inequalities that exist between Bulgaria and the member states. The main problem facing Bulgarian foreign policy is negotiating membership conditions under which the adaptation process towards the EU criteria, especially in the economy, is not in contradiction to important national interests and is not placing our country in an unfavourable position as compared to the other negotiating countries. This is not an easy task and the negotiations for closing down four of the reactors of the Kozloduy nuclear power station has shown how painful the achieved concessions can be. These will, however, be inevitable in future, when they have to be judged in the context of the real positive consequences of Bulgaria being part of the EU, which presents the most-promising prospect of guaranteeing the national strategic interests.