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Vol 2, No 39
13 November 2000
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EC Progress Reports 2000EC 2000 Progress Report on Bulgaria
Matilda Nahabedian

The "2000 Regular Report from the Commission on Bulgaria's Progress towards Accession" assesses the country's progress towards fulfilment of the political and economic criteria for EU membership and its ability to take on the obligations of membership. All topics reviewed in the report for Bulgaria start by praising the progress achieved and end by making a note on what remains to be implemented.

Weak judges and crooked cops

"Bulgaria continues to fulfil the Copenhagen political criteria," the Report says. "However, very little has been done to upgrade the judiciary, which remains weak," it argues. "Corruption continues to be a very serious problem and a global, transparent anti-corruption strategy with overt backing from government and parliament would be of benefit."

The Report notes that "some progress has been made" in the treatment of Roma since the adoption of the Framework Programme for their integration last year but adds that "the administrative capacity of the National Council on Ethnic and Demographic Issues to implement the programme remains low."

Bulgaria has clearly made further progress towards becoming a functioning market economy. It is establishing a satisfactory track record in macroeconomic stabilisation and performance as well as in privatisation, especially of banks, and a major reform of the health and pension systems has begun, says the Commission Report. It notes, however, that Bulgaria is not yet able to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union in the medium term—a statement made in last year's annual report as well.

"Structural reforms still need to be taken further and enterprise restructuring needs to be advanced," according to the Commission. "Financial intermediation continues to be weak, and much remains to be done in areas such as the functioning of the land market, or the enforcement of bankruptcy cases. Measures to address the weaknesses in the implementation and enforcement of the legal and regulatory framework need to be taken to improve the business climate. Bureaucratic barriers to foreign and local enterprise creation must be eliminated," the EU experts recommend.

To improve the business climate, it is necessary to strengthen, implement and enforce the legal and regulatory framework and to eliminate bureaucratic barriers to foreign and local enterprise. "A sustained implementation of the existing reform programme and higher levels of investment are key requirements for continued growth, developing the enterprise sector and building up competitiveness," the Commission's Report concludes.

Bulgaria's "very serious problem"

Corruption is considered to be alarmingly high and is assessed as a "very serious problem of Bulgaria." The Commission acknowledges that it is difficult to assess its extent and quotes the persistent rumours about corrupt practices at various levels of the administration and the public sector, which contribute to the tainting of the political, economic and social environment. These rumours affect, according to the Commission, the capacity of the state to guarantee a predictable and lawful environment for its citizens and economic and social actors. Customs officers, the police, the judiciary, university teaching staff and public-sector officials are regarded as the most corrupt professionals.

Bulgaria continues to fulfil the political criteria for membership, the Report assesses, and adds that the political situation in Bulgaria has been stable during the last year. The reformist government of Prime Minister Ivan Kostov is said to have pursued its policy of economic reforms and integration into the European Union. The Report notes that all major political forces support the policy of integration with the European Union.

The overall assessments of the legislative and executive branches are positive and encouraging. The parliament continues to operate smoothly and to play an increased role in the process of European integration both at the political and the practical level, the Report reads.

It points out the significant progress made with the adoption of the Law on State Administration and the Civil Service Law in establishing a modern, independent and professional public administration. According to the Commission, however, it remains difficult to retain professional employees in the civil service, partly because of the low salaries and partly due to the high demand in the private sector.

Adopt, implement, enforce

The judiciary remains weak, the Commission says, and lists various problems it currently faces—including corruption, lack of financial resources, poor working conditions for judges and other personnel, the lack of adequate professional training, as well as non-transparent methods of recruiting staff.

In general, the capacity of the Bulgarian administration and judicial system to ensure application of the acquis is said to be still limited. Efforts shouldn't be focused only on preparation and adoption of legislation but also on implementation and enforcement. In some cases, an adequate legal framework may have been adopted, the Report highlights, but implementation and enforcement are still poor—mainly because of a weak administrative and judicial capacity and lack of preparation for implementation.

In the sphere of human rights and protection of minorities, the Report says that Bulgaria continues to respect human rights and freedoms and has ratified most international human rights conventions. The Report, however, notes that the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled in May 2000 against Bulgaria in the case of "Velikova vs Bulgaria," relating to the death of a Romani man while in police custody in 1994.

Regarding minority rights, the Commission points out that the Roma minority (about 5% of the population) continues to suffer discrimination due to the accumulation, over time, of factors that have worsened the living conditions of its members. While there is political commitment from the government to remedy the problem, the Roma population is still subject to "discrimination, poor living conditions, economic hardship, chronic unemployment, poor health care, appalling housing conditions and lack of effective access to education," the Report says.

On track

Since the last regular report, Bulgaria has maintained a good pace of alignment of legislation with the acquis but needs to pay more attention to how this will be implemented and enforced, the Commission notes.

As for the economic situation in the country, the Report notes the progress achieved in most areas, especially in the free movement of goods and
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capital, industrial property rights, consumer protection and statistics. An obstacle to foreign investment is the poor functioning of the land market. The Report also criticizes the poor framework for data protection, state aid and alignment with the audio-visual acquis chapter. Agriculture is problematic due to the lack of funding and veterinary inspection; otherwise, the Report makes a note of the progress in this field in terms of approximation and implementation of legislation.

Bulgaria is praised for harmonizing its visa regime and for signing readmission agreements with all EU member states, except the UK and Ireland, where negotiations are currently underway. The Report notes, however, that the country maintains a visa-free regime with Ukraine, FYROM, Russia, Georgia, Yugoslavia and Tunisia.

The Commission appreciates the commitments for early closure of acquis chapters 1 to 4 made by the Bulgarian government.

Matilda Nahabedian, 13 November 2000

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