A Possible Reform of the EU Has Risks for Bulgaria

In the EU’s older part, one of the main points on the public agenda is the future of the Union. Where to from now on? With whom? How? Treaty changes are being discussed and even leaving the Union. However, this is not a leading topic in the Community’s newest part, as in some countries it is not even being discussed at all. Bulgaria, for instance, is entirely consumed by its still unsevered connection with the past and the only topic related to the EU is the level of absorption of EU funds the European taxpayer pays to help the economic catch-up of the new member states. Bulgaria is suffering of a mini Ukrainian syndrome of division of the population of pro-European and pro-Russian, in spite of the fact that the country has been a member of the European Union for 7 years now. Eurozone membership or even in Schengen is completely frozen for an unknown period of time and for reasons that have nothing to do with the public opinion.

And although Bulgaria allegedly had national consensus a decade ago that the right path is that toward European integration, the question today about the country’s future has never been more open. The country, where more than half a year anti-government protests have been taken place, although significantly weakened, more and more speed are gaining anti-EU political formations and speech. That speech is being silently passed by by the rulers who, in words, confirm Bulgaria’s European membership, but their actions show an alienation from the European system of values. The country is practically suffering from complete apathy about what is going on in the Union of which it is an equal part. This apathy was especially vivid in euinside’s unsuccessful attempts to get the opinion of representatives of the government about the currently discussed Treaty changes. The working schedule of the chairwoman of the European affairs committee in Bulgaria’s parliament, Ms Denitsa Karadzhova, did not allow such a conversation even on the phone, while Kristian Vigenin, the minister of foreign and EU affairs, did not respond to the invitation at all.

With pleasure and a lot of sadness responded to the invitation Ms Meglena Kuneva, Bulgaria’s first EU commissioner. The person who took part in the Convent on the European constitution. In her capacity as a minister of European affairs in Sergey Stanishev’s government (2005-2009), she closed the country’s accession negotiations. Currently, she is a leader of one of the newest political parties in the country – Bulgaria of the Citizens – which is part of the Reformist Block – a coalition of centre-right parties whose main goal is Bulgaria’s European future and implementation of the reforms that have been promised for decades, but never actually done. euinside also talked on the issue with Ivailo Kalfin, a member of the European Parliament, who was a deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs when Bulgaria joined the EU. He is one of the few Bulgarian politicians who are very active on EU stage. Domestically, he recently split from the ruling Coalition for Bulgaria of PES leader Sergey Stanishev to join the movement of former President Georgi Parvanov. Always willing to discuss European issues is also Dimitar Bechev, chief of the Sofia office of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

Bulgaria behaves as a country that is still in an accession regime

All three interlocutors of euinside were unanimous that a possible opening of the EU treaty for changes hides significant risks for Bulgaria. According to Ms Kuneva, who, indeed, spoke with much passion on the issue and was obvious she misses her time in Brussels, in Bulgaria Europe’s future is not discussed at all. “And the other big issue, if we keep that direction of the thought – a federal Europe or with element of federatively or rather a common market? What do we need? What did we discuss in Bulgaria? We rely entirely on what we will be told from the outside”. One of the things that strike her the most is that no analyses are made in Bulgaria and the country needs a national analysis on should we go for more integration, which means also setting a deadline for eurozone accession.

Meglena Kuneva is not afraid of the opening of the treaties itself because she is convinced that the Lisbon treaty is a compromise. Currently, the bigger part of the member states share a common currency, practically there is a common market, there is an economic and monetary union, the banking union is also under construction, which means that all the elements for single functioning are available that are typical for the national or federal states. What is not there, though, is adequate governance. “And here somewhere is hidden the challenge that the current treaties cannot respond to”, Meglena Kuneva believes. That is why, she is convinced that the initially developed European constitution, rejected at referenda in France and The Netherlands, was the right solution. The rejected draft provided a much more comprehensive response to the current issues. The biggest of which, she says, is that at the moment there is no “strong and fascinating vision about the way forward for Europe”.

Dimitar Bechev, from the ECFR, is of the opinion that if it comes to opening of the EU treaty for a reform, that will be for only cosmetic changes because experience shows that a treaty revision takes at least a decade and there are many points where it can be blocked. If something were to be achieved, that would be a “visual retreat to the benefit of extremist parties and the political attitudes in society”, he said and added that the Bulgarians will be harmed, but not by limitation of rights, but by fuelling an isolationist atmosphere or, to put it differently, by reaffirming the second class of European membership. The biggest risk for Mr Bechev, however, is the institutionalising of the system of many circles in the EU. If the euro area were to separate as a compact European core, it will have a budget of its own, which will raise the issue of a parliamentary body to adopt it and monitor its implementation. This means that a genuine union will be established within the EU and all the others will be second class members, the analyst explained. He recommended Bulgaria to do its utmost to avoid such an option. “Of course, let integration deepen, but this should happen at a level of 28, not at the level of 18″.

Ivailo Kalfin, MEP from the group of Socialists and Democrats, shares the opinion that treaty change means a long and complicated procedure with unexpected end. “I believe that all wishes to open the treaties, mainly related to the institutional recovery of the euro area and its institutions, hides a really big risk, including for the British pretences and other pretences as well, which means that such an opening of the treaties will be very risky”. Among the risks the MEP outlined are reducing the effect of some parts of the European legislation related to the protection of external borders, migration policy and social rights. The biggest risk is the reform to end with a loose EU. In any case, though, if it comes to a reform, it should be done via a convent so that all interested parties can take part. Mr Kalfin is convinced that treaty change is not necessary because the current legislation allows for strengthening of the institutions, including in the euro area.

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