Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

10 years from the day Bulgaria started EU accession negotiations

Adelina Marini, December 1, 2009

A lot of administrative talking and too much focusing on reports and statements. This is how the Bulgarian minister of defense Nikolay Mladenov defined the process of EU accession of Bulgaria at a discussion about the 10th anniversary of the beginning of Bulgaria's accession negotiations. Nikolay Mladenov, beside being a minister of defense, was a member of the European Parliament and before that his was a member of the Convent that prepared the Constitutional Treaty of the EU, failed at referenda in France and the Netherlands and then transformed into the Lisbon Treaty, that has come into force today.

For the French ambassador to Bulgaria Etienne de Poncins, the process of accession was theoretical, bureaucratic and boring. He added that the EU had not managed to deal with some Bulgarian realities. Mr. Mladenov added to that by criticizing two things related to the accession process of Bulgaria: "We had to talk a little more politically so that people could understand what was the meaning of membership and not perceive the EU as some sort of a money-box". But the fact is that there was political talking at the discussion yesterday and it was, indeed, the minister of defense that did it: "On the 1st of January 2007 the political leadership of Bulgaria forgot that our country is now an EU member state and ceased formulating a clear vision of what should happen from that moment on. At that time I expected the prime minister Stanishev to say that our first priority was Bulgaria to become a member of Schengen, to join the Eurozone as well. This did not happen. 4 years had to pass for the then new government so that the current government to come and starts quickly catching up. But from tomorrow (today) this is not going to be enough".

Most participants at the discussion focused a lot on the Lisbon Treaty instead of the achievements of Bulgaria for the past 10 years since the country started negotiations with the EU. An exception was the French ambassador Etienne de Poncins who usually is very critical towards the shortcomings in Bulgaria. Regarding the anniversary he said that the EU does not regret even for a second about the process of enlargement, including for the accession of Bulgaria. He divided the EU member states into 3 groups: the founding members; those who could but had decided to join at a later stage and the third group was those states who did not have the right to join because of the Iron Curtain.

His Excellency surprisingly hailed Bulgaria for its membership by explaining that those 3 years of membership were a success story because the country had proved as being a loyal partner and had played very positive role in the Union. He specifically praised the first Bulgarian commissioner Meglena Kuneva for her energy and work that helped improve the image of Bulgaria in Brussels.

However, Etienne de Poncins did not spare criticism. Although diplomatically, he recalled that in 2006 it was very difficult for the Eu to decide whether Bulgaria to join the Union on the 1st of January 2007 or not. In the end of the day, he said, the right decision had been taken, in spite of the insufficient preparation of the country. "When Bulgaria joined in 2007 we were very aware of the shortcomings - lack of political will, corruption and organised crime. That is why we have introduced the mechanism for cooperation and verification which we did for the first time". According to De Poncins this mechanism lacks teeth because aside of the ineffective safeguard clause for non-compliance with its commitments, Brussels has no other tool to address the problems of Bulgaria.

Therefore the countries that are to join the Union will face a new, revised mechanism that will avoid the shortcomings of Bulgaria and Romania, the French diplomat added. The deputy ambassador of Finland Willi Anderson also reminded Bulgaria's problems in justice and home affairs but underlined that the government will fulfill its promise and it was obvious that it was working in the right direction.

Outside the political talking and the distraction towards the Lisbon Treaty, the statement of minister Mladenov made a very strong impression because he put several specific questions regarding the future of the Eu after the Lisbon Treaty comes into force. He put these questions in the context that Bulgaria is no longer required to just catch up with the delays on its path to EU and as a member of the EU. He, of course, named only those issues that are related to defense but indeed need an answer:

How should we (Bulgaria) take part in the new policy of security and defense? How should we interpret those articles in the Lisbon Treaty about solidarity, don't they duplicate our commitments in NATO? Are we building a new European NATO without us being aware of that? Shall we go towards building up common forces? Is this going to happen first between Germany and France and then all others will follow or we will do this together? Are we going to focus more on civil missions, are we going to have a common market of defense industry, shall we integrate the European defense companies?

Questions to which the Lisbon Treaty still does not give answers. That is why most of the speakers united in the opinion that the project for a Constitutional Treaty, at least its version that the Convent worked out, was much better then all its further versions, including the Lisbon Treaty. According to the speakers, this "softening" of the Treaty was due to the strong public opinion in some member states as well as to the lack of courage in some politicians.

But we should admit an important reason is the incommensurability of member states. The 20 years of transition and 7 years of accession negotiations with the EU showed that Bulgaria was not ready not only politically but in terms of mentality for what European politics is. The constant dependence in countries like Bulgaria on what government is in power so as to give a clear clue in what direction the state will go, puts it in the quite disadvantageous role of being a formal EU member without opportunities for a special contribution because of the lack of prestige.

A prove of that is the arrangement of the new European Commission which caused a great headache to its president Jose Manuel Barroso, who, lacking the power to chose the members of his team himself, had to balance between the interests of big and old member states, between large and new as well as between competence and possibilities of each candidate.

Because if Bulgaria had demonstrated persistence not only regarding its membership to the Union but towards specific European policies, the president of the Commission wouldn't have to make a compromise neither with the field of the commissioner nor with the personality of the Bulgarian commissioner. And if until recently it was relatively easy even on a European level because the Union spent quite a lot of time in interinstitutional building, now the global situation requires a strong and unified global player. The EU can be such a player only when all member states are on a relatively equal level of political thinking and vision.

Many of the participants at yesterday's discussion raised the issue whether 10 years were a lot of time or not. There is no answer so far in terms of Bulgaria's development and the development of the EU itself. But the transition in Bulgaria towards European thinking will end only when all political parties include European policies in their programmes and direct them to their voters in such a way that they become part of their lives. Only then the EU will be unified in its thinking and strong in its actions on the global scene.