A SUFFERED TRIUMPH IN STRASBOURG
The European Parliament Approved the Treaty for Bulgaria's Accession to EUThe positive votes of 522 members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg made the dream of one people come true. With the draft text of the Treaty for Bulgaria's Accession to the European Union (EU) approved by the European Parliament on April 13, there are no more procedural obstacles in front of the official signing of the agreement, scheduled to take place on April 25 in Luxembourg. It will only remain for the statistics that 70 MPs voted against the proposal to make Bulgaria the 26th member of the united European family. Sixty nine members abstained from voting. Bulgaria's northern neighbour, Romania, passed through the heavy parliamentary procedure, too. Bucharest's application was supported by 497 members of the European Parliament, while 93 voted against it and 71 abstained from voting.Still, the triumph of the Balkan countries did not come easy. On the contrary, Bulgaria and Romania were forced to keep shivering until the last minute. They were unpleasantly surprised when 92 MPs from the faction of the European People's Party (EPP) requested that the fateful decision be postponed for the next session, scheduled for 27 and 28 April. Fortunately, the proposal was rejected in the plenary hall.But in practice it meant that a new date should be fixed for the official signing of the agreement on the part of the state and governmental leaders of the 25 countries in Luxembourg. Still, it's calming that the motives of the EPP members did not refer to Bulgaria's readiness to become member but to the obscurity surrounding EU's future budget. In February 2004, the European Commission (EC) presented the financial plans for the money that would cover the costs for the integration of Bulgaria and Romania from 2007 to 2009. In the meantime, no later than June 30, 2005 the member states will have to reach an agreement on the new six-year budget of the EU (for the period 2007-2013). This financial plan should include the EUR9BN already allocated for Sofia and Bucharest. Probably the EPP representatives felt themselves ignored as they would not be able to do anything about the tranches allocated from the single budget for Bulgaria and Romania. Eventually, the European Parliament took a compromise decision appealing to the Council of Ministers to present once again the financial package for the two applying countries before they are accepted as full members in the beginning of 2007. That will probably coincide with the discussion of the expenses of the single European fund which should be voted no later than the end of 2006.EPP's initiative mobilized the efforts of the Bulgarian negotiating team of experts who went to Strasbourg to steal the show due to the successfully concluded talks with the EC. As the Minister of European Affairs Meglena Kouneva admitted to the press, numerous negotiations were held with the prime ministers of the member countries in the night between 12 and 13 April in search of a way out of the unpleasant situation.Apart from the financial matters, the so-called safeguard clause allowing a one-year delay of Bulgaria's membership provoked the European Parliament to show muscles. The MPs requested and eventually got the written permission of the EC that the European Parliament would participate in the possible decision for a 12-month delay of Bulgaria's accession. As the BANKER weekly informed, the draft agreement between the country and the 25 members stipulates that the above mentioned clause may become valid due to an anonymous decision of the Council of Ministers following a proposal of the EC. In practice, the Strasbourg-based Parliament was about to remain isolated in the monitoring of the country in the period starting with the signing of the agreement and ending with its entering into force in January 2007.Engrossed in joy due to the approval of the agreement, Bulgarian politicians may fail to pay attention to some small obstacles that might bring unpleasant surprises to the country. But these obstacles were clearly named by the European Parliament's rapporteur for Bulgaria - the British MP Geoffrey Van Orden. It is hardly surprising that the judicial reform and particularly the reform in the penal jurisdiction are among the problems that Bulgaria will face in the remaining 20 months until its membership. However, it would be nice if Bulgarian rulers paid some attention to the remarks about the lack of transparency in public procurement as well as the unabating traffic of people, commodities and drugs through the borders of the country. Also curious is the appeal to Bulgaria to ensure freedom of the media to a higher extent. An interesting moment in Mr. Van Orden's report is the statement that there are still different prices for local people and foreigners on the Bulgarian market of tourist services. Besides, the members of the European Parliament are of the opinion that the Foreigners Act requirement that foreigners should open ten jobs for Bulgarians as a condition to get right of establishment is rather discriminating.The liberalisation of the banking sector and the telecommunications, as well as the growth of the private sector share in the GDP up to 64% are mentioned as some of the country's achievements. The European MPs wrote a special sentence to express their disappointment with the failed sale of Bulgartabac. Meanwhile, they did not hide their satisfaction with the National Assembly's decision to make the Government open a new privatisation procedure for the tobacco holding as soon as possible. The voted special resolution supporting Bulgaria's membership includes the European Parliament's appeal to the member countries to apply a more flexible approach towards the decommissioning of the third and fourth units of the Kozlodoui nuclear power plant.