OPINION

Bulgaria’s EU push

Bulgaria is now in the final stretch for EU membership and must avoid any blunder that could postpone the country’s long-desired accession. Athens has hastened to support the new multi-party government in Sofia, now racing against time to complete the necessary reforms. Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Valinakis met Bulgarian European Affairs Minister Meglana Kouneva in Thessaloniki on Tuesday. He underscored that Greece would lend Bulgaria its full support in its EU bid and that the government would present the agreement for her country’s accession to Parliament in October. Barring any surprises, Bulgaria and Romania will become full EU members early in 2007, followed by Croatia, while other Balkan countries are claiming seats on the enlargement train leading to Brussels. Greece has everything to gain from the EU accession of its neighbors, as the former powder keg of Southeastern Europe develops into a region of peace, stability, security and cooperation. As such, Athens appears determined to lend as much practical support as possible to expedite the accession process. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis made this clear throughout his tour of the «hot zone» of the western Balkans; government officials repeat it in talks with their counterparts in the countries concerned; and Greek diplomats promote it in the relevant European forums. The enlargement dynamic may be abating among EU member states, but Athens must remain steady in its supportive strategy, on which both government and opposition agree. Despite all the mistakes and the shortcomings of its foreign policy, Greece stood by its northern neighbors in difficult times, offering aid and helping defuse disputes between them. Now it must do so once again. This assistance is the most significant of all.