Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU on 1 January 2007. On 1 January 2017, no celebrations were held marking their tenth accession anniversary, confirming that EU enlargement is no longer fashionable.
Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU on 1 January 2007, as part of the Fifth Enlargement of the EU, which included ten other countries which joined on 1 May 2004.
Together with the Schengen borderless space and the common euro currency, EU enlargement was largely seen as the bloc’s biggest historical achievement.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989, EU enlargement became a highly political matter of reunification of a continent artificially divided by the Cold War.
The Central European countries which today constitute the Visegrad group (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia), the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, all of them former republics of the defunct Soviet Union), Slovenia, a former Yugoslav republic, and Bulgaria and Romania, all applied for EU membership in 1995.
While the Central European and the Baltic countries, together with Malta and Cyprus, successfully concluded EU accession negotiations in less than ten years and joined on 1 May 2004, it took more time for Bulgaria and Romania, plagued by inefficient law-enforcement systems, corruption, and in the case of Bulgaria, organised crime.
Finally, it was decided that Bulgaria and Romania would join the EU, accompanied by a monitoring mechanism, aimed at helping them overcome these deficiencies.
The so-called “Cooperation and Verification Mechanism” (CVM) was put in place from the first day of Bulgaria and Romania’s accession. The idea was that in a few years, the two countries would overcome deficiencies and the monitoring would be lifted.
Regular reports monitored the progress of the two countries, the latest of which shows that Romania has made more progress than its smaller southern neighbour.
The European Commission has since realised that CVM was not an effective tool and said it would not use it for future enlargement. Croatia joined the EU in 2013 without such a monitoring mechanism.
The next reports will see the light in the first weeks of the new year, at a time when, incidentally, both Romania and Bulgaria are in the process of forming governments.
In the case of Romania, last Friday (30th December) the country’s President Klaus Iohannis endorsed Sorin Grindeanu, a member of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) that won the 11 December elections, to be the next prime minister.
The leader of the PSD, Liviu Dragnea, who was convicted for electoral fraud and is appealing the charges, could not himself be nominated. Iohannis, who is from the opposite political camp, rejected the first PSD proposal for Sevil Shhaideh to become prime minister, a potentially two-fold novelty that would see the country have its first woman and Muslim in the post.
In the case of Bulgaria, the situation is even more complicated. The country has been in political crisis since Prime Minister Boyko Borissov resigned after the Socialist-backed candidate, Rumen Radev, a newcomer to politics, won the run-off presidential election on 13 November by a landslide.
In theory, the outgoing President Rossen Plevneliev could have nominated a caretaker cabinet, but with the clock ticking away, it looks like Radev will nominate an interim cabinet pending early elections this spring.
Bulgaria also needs to sort out another issue. The country’s EU Commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, resigned, with her term having expired on 31 December 2016. Technically, Bulgaria is without a Commissioner as of the New Year.
Bulgaria can still nominate a Commissioner competent for the post vacated by German Commissioner Günther Oettinger, who takes over Georgieva’s responsibilities, leaving his digital economy and society portfolio available. Oettinger took the budget and human resources portfolio from Geogieva.
On the positive side, Bulgaria and Romania are among the most pro-European countries, as opinion polls have shown. Although this data is little-publicised, both Romania and Bulgaria have largely profited financially from EU accession.