NEWS

Bulgaria’s premier ponders EU future

In an interview with Kathimerini just ahead of Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union on January 1, Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev declared, «We don’t expect to be a burden for the Europeans» as EU members. Stanishev confirms that there will be no flood of Bulgarian emigrants seeking work in other EU member states, because Bulgaria is creating jobs and other social incentives to keep his compatriots happy at home. In the interview, Stanishev described Greek assistance as crucial to Bulgaria’s EU accession and also discussed the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline as well as the saga of the Bulgarian nurses who have been sentenced to death by a Libyan court on charges of having deliberately infected young patients with HIV. Do you think that Bulgarian society is ready for the great journey into united Europe? Do Bulgarian citizens think that their lives will change spectacularly while the feeling of insecurity is constantly growing in EU countries? Joining the EU was the number one national objective of Bulgaria for the past 10 years. It took a great deal of effort to achieve and we are very satisfied, because we believe in the strength and prospects of the EU. During the accession process there were radical reforms in all aspects of political, economic and social life in Bulgaria that have benefited Bulgarian citizens, who will live in a democratic, modern European society. At the same time, meeting the criteria for EU accession has made Bulgarians more adaptable and more prepared for overall competition. The serious supervision exercised by the European Commission over Bulgaria had a positive outcome and personally I am convinced that we are well prepared to join. Although the requisite changes have been made, our efforts will not stop with our entry into the EU. Community supportive We repeatedly explained to the public that EU membership offers exceptional opportunities to Bulgaria as a state and to every citizen. But this specific outcome depends on efforts that are made by every individual citizen. Research shows that there is a very high level of support, almost 70 percent, for the EU in society, which I think shows clearly the attitude of the public toward the EU. But we don’t look on the EU as consumers. We want to contribute to its good and to participate actively in strengthening it and stabilizing it in the belief that in the globalize world and in conditions of intense international competition, the peoples of Europe can only succeed if they are united. Bulgaria will try as an equal member of the EU to show the rightness of this view and contribute to making the EU the most successful project of the 21st century. For you the «door of paradise» opens on January 1, but are you worried about the suspiciousness with which you have been accepted into the EU «club»? I refer to the skepticism that is rife among the member states that are afraid of being inundated with unemployed Bulgarians and Romanians. The attitude of the member states to enlargement has certainly changed in comparison with 2004, for instance. The sense of an historic mission that prevailed then is disappearing. Nevertheless, surveys show categorically that the fifth EU enlargement to 10 states was an undoubted economic success. I believe that the entry of Bulgaria and Romania will also have a positive impact – and not only on those two countries but on the entire Union. I want to emphasize that, on the threshold of the EU, Bulgaria has a developing economy combined with political stability, with a skilled work force, relatively low unemployment and a modern legislative framework. It is worth pointing out that this is the ninth consecutive year in a row that the Bulgarian economy has shown a steady annual growth of 5-6 percent, and that 2006 saw a record level of investments. Fiscal discipline is strict, unemployment is falling and, at around 8.3 percent, is close to the EU average. Consequently, we don’t expect to be a burden for the Europeans; on the contrary, we hope to help them with business. Analyses by Bulgarian and foreign firms show categorically that there is no danger of migration of Bulgarian workers to the EU after January 1, 2007. There is even a shortage of staff in some highly developed sectors of the Bulgarian economy, and the wages, especially in the private sector, are good. I think that phobias in some EU member states have been used for internal political purposes and that bans on workers were for internal consumption. The mass media, particularly in Great Britain, contributed to the abnormal development of the situation. The EU is strong precisely because it invests in the free movement of individuals and in competitiveness as a basic principle. With your entry and that of Romania, it seems that the doors are closed to eastern enlargement. Are you afraid that the fact that the countries of the former Yugoslavia risk being left out might destabilize the Western Balkans where, after the tragedy of war, people have invested their future in the European project? The states of the Western Balkans are not isolated islets on the way to European and Euro-Atlantic union. We definitely support their EU prospects, because we are convinced that it guarantees the stability and prosperity of the region. As an example I could cite the memorandum of European and Euro-Atlantic cooperation we have with all the countries of the Western Balkans. I am certain that they feel they have good advocates in Bulgaria and Greece or their European and Euro-Atlantic prospects. One good example is the normalization of the visa regime with the EU, which I see as a very good sign for those countries. Bulgaria has also made its contribution through a series of measures developing bilateral relations with those states. Of course they are facing a series of challenges that they have to deal with on their own, mainly related to the process of reforms to meet EU criteria and specifications. Obviously the societies of the former Yugoslavian states are affected by postwar traumas, but it is the responsibility of their political elite to make the therapy process less painful. We will continue to help all democratic forces in those countries in their efforts to build solid foundations for democracy in the Western Balkans. As a country that has been down that road, we are certain that it is precisely the prospect of joining NATO and the EU that will be the incentive for the tough, unpopular but important reforms in those states. On your difficult path to Brussels did you get real help from Athens or was it limited to general declarations? Even at the moment when Bulgaria submitted its application to the EU in 1995, we felt we had help from our friendly neighbor Greece. I certainly wouldn’t say it was a matter of general declarations. On the contrary, we have always had active cooperation in bilateral relations. The Greek side contributed to our efforts over the past 10 years. The growth of exchanges between the two countries, such as significant Greek investment in Bulgaria, also played a beneficial, practical role in our successful course to inclusion in the European family. Our country will continue to count on the support of the Greek leadership and public, because good relations between neighbors benefit everyone.