EU-Bulgaria relations [Archived]

Bulgaria, along with Romania, joined the EU on 1 January 2007, nevertheless the Commission asks for reforms to continue.

See also our Bulgaria reference page.

Background

Bulgaria established diplomatic relations with the EU in 1988. In 1993, the European agreement on association was signed before entering into force in 1995. In December 1995, Sofia submitted its application for EU membership, and two years later preliminary negotiations were launched.

The Commission presented its first regular report on Bulgaria's progress towards accession in November 1998. The second report, released in 1999, recommended that formal negotiations be opened.

Accession negotiations between Bulgaria and the EU started on 15 February 2000. Sofia concluded its accession talks on 15 June 2004, six months ahead of schedule. The technical closure of talks on the final two negotiating chapters had been completed on 14 June 2004. The country's aim has been to join the EU as a full member on 1 January 2007.

Under its mid-2004 agreement with the EU, Bulgaria will receive 240 million euro on top of the previously announced funding of 4.4 billion euro from the EU's 2007-2009 budget. 

In April 2005, the European Parliament gave its overwhelming support to Bulgaria's EU bid. On 25 April 2005, Sofia signed the country's EU Accession Treaty, which was ratified by parliament on 11 May.

In October 2005, the Commission's monitoring report said that Sofia must serve six months of further probation and until April or May 2006 it must "take immediate and decisive corrective action" in the fields of judiciary reform and fighting high-level corruption.

In the next monitoring report, dated 16 May 2006, the Commission confirmed that Bulgaria has continuously been fulfilling the political criteria laid down in Copenhagen, and that the country was a functioning market economy. At the same time, on account of a total of six policy areas which continue to give rise to "serious concern," the Commission decided to review Bulgaria's reform progress in October 2006 and to decide based on that review whether the originally scheduled January 2007 accession date was still feasible.

In its final monitoring report on 26 September 2006, the Commission gave its green light for Bulgarian accession in 2007, but insisted on further reforms. If the requirements are not met, the Commission can invoke safeguard measures, which could lead to the suspension of funds.

Issues

The final monitoring report by the Commission indicates tougher conditions on Bulgaria's entry in 2007. The country will be closely monitored on the remaining areas of concern. These include the justice system, the fight against corruption, police co-operation and the fight against organised crime, money-laundering, integrated administrative control system for agriculture (IACS), transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE), and financial control.

If the requirements are not met, the Commission has the possibility to invoke safeguards. Under the Accession Treaty, there are three types of safeguard measures: economic, internal market and JHA safeguards, which can be invoked up to three years after accession. These could effect food export bans and cuts to EU funds, such as agricultural and structural funds, as foreseen in the report. In addition, there are transitional arrangements, such as the restriction of free movement of workers from new member states. Also the Commission can take remedial measures to ensure the functioning of EU policies. This concerns the areas of food and air safety, agricultural funds, the judiciary and the fight against corruption.

Positions

President Georgi Parvanov said that Bulgaria has reached the same level of preparedness as the ten countries which joined the European Union in May 2004 had at the time of their accession. He expressed the hope that there will not be any double standards, and that the same arrangements will be applied by Brussels with regards to Bulgaria as in the case of those ten countries. The President spoke again about the possible safeguard clauses, saying that they would not be a motivating factor for stronger efforts on reform.

The President of the European People’s Party (EPP), Wilfried Martens, stated:  “This is a historic decision. After the accession in 2004 of ten countries from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean area, the EU is now completing the reunification of the European continent”, President Martens stated.

Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, President of the Party of European Socialists, said “Keeping our promise to allow those two countries to join, while setting conditions to achieve even greater efforts to combat corruption and organised crime is a good solution. It would be wrong to make Bulgaria or Romania the victims of enlargement fatigue, yet there can be no doubt that there are also some genuine concerns too about crime.”

Graham Watson, Group leader in the European Parliament for the Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) said: "Size matters. The EU needs as many countries as possible which share our values to help us tackle the serious challenges of our age."

Joost Lagendijk, of the Greens Group stated: "The Greens welcome the strict post-accession monitoring mechanism. The Commission should not hesitate to invoke the possible sanctions it proposes should Bulgaria or Romania fail to comply with the benchmarks in fields such as the fight against high-level corruption nor should it think twice about withholding agricultural funds if the control on the payments by the local agencies proves to be insufficient."

Annemie Neyts, President of the European Liberal Democrats (ELDR), said that “the implementation of accompanying measures should not hide the fact that this is a major achievement for both countries and reason for celebration.” ELDR does not believe that EU enlargement should stop after the accession of Romania and Bulgaria. “The current accession negotiations will take years and will leave time for the adaptation of the EU institutions,” Annemie Neyts stated.

René van der Linden, President of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) said: "It was important not to lose the political momentum for accession, even if close scrutiny of several outstanding issues is deemed necessary." But he added, that “PACE's Monitoring Committee remains vigilant about the implementation of reforms and respect for fundamental freedoms in all of our 46 member states."

Pierre Simon, President of Eurochambres, said: “Eurochambres has always welcomed the economic integration of candidate countries into the EU.  On the other hand, we praise the Commission’s decision not to hide the obstacles that still remain on the way to integration.  We need to keep preparing the business community and civil society at large to ensure a smooth transition and to avoid disillusion.”

UNICE President Ernest-Antoine Seillière said: “A Union of almost 500 million inhabitants makes it more urgent to review its institutional decision-making procedure.  Adequate solutions have to be found to give Europe the means to meet those challenges successfully.  This will be positive for the new countries as well as for the EU itself.”

ETUC General Secretary, John Monks, said “today marks another important step in European construction. Further work is needed to build the social Europe that we all aspire-to and the time is now to redouble our efforts to achieve it”.

Timeline

  • 26 September 2006: The Commission published its final monitoring report.
  • 1 January 2007: Bulgaria joins the EU.
  • 20 May 2007: Bulgaria held European Parliament elections, with a new centre-right group, the Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), the ruling Socialists and the Turkish minority Movement for Rights and Freedoms party emerging as the leading parties.
  • 27 June 2007: The Commission is to issue a report judging Bulgaria's progress, especially in the areas of judicial reform, fight against corruption and organised crime.

Further Reading

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