AGREEMENT WITH BULGARIA BLESSED BY EC
Bulgaria overcame the last formal hindrance before the signing in Luxembourg of the EU accession treaty on April 25, as planned. At a meeting in Strasbourg on Tuesday (February 22) the members of the European Commission (EC), presided by Jose Manuel Barroso, blessed the contract to be signed by the state and government leaders with Bulgaria and Romania. The deputies of the European Parliament will express their opinion on the draft treaty in Strasbourg on April 13. They will most probably follow the example of their colleagues from the EC and give green light to the agreement with the two Balkan countries. So, the governments in Sofia and Bucarest may already chill the champagne, at least concerning the procedure of signing the treaty of accession. The EU Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn called this week's decision of the European commissioners one more cornerstone in the EC relations with the two candidate countries. In his words, it is a clear sign that the EU members will soon welcome Bulgaria and Romania in the family of European peoples. Commissioner Rehn, who is expected to visit our country in mid-March, warned there were still plenty of things to do and reminded that the Bulgarian government should not relax until January 1, 2007, when the country is due to obtain full EU membership. Euro-Affairs Minister Meglena Kouneva interpreted his words as Brussels' eagerness to see real changes in the pre-judicial phase of the penal process. The latest assessment of Bulgaria's compliance with the acquis under the Justice and Home Affairs chapter will be known in about a month when the conclusive report of the third EU partner monitoring (started on Monday, February 21) will be ready. The bad news is that Bulgaria can only boast of cosmetic repairs of border check-points and the establishment of an expert panel with the Justice Ministry, entrusted to work out a draft of a completely new Criminal Procedures Code. Of course, the elimination of procedural hindrances to the accession treaty that will legitimize us as a full-fledged member of the big European family fills us with optimism. Preoccupied with its internal political problems, the ruling NMSII party is not in a hurry to propose a public discussion on the specific provisions of the future accession treaty. Let's hope that will be done after March 7, which is the deadline for translating the English draft into Bulgarian, according to Ms Kouneva. One way or the other, the main part of the document (60 articles, excluding the annexes and protocols) was published on the INTERNET website of the Institute of European Law, which makes it clear that Bulgaria and Romania will be treated the same way as the ten new members from Central and Eastern Europe which joined the EU in May 2004. Article 2 of the draft stipulates that after our country becomes EU member (i.e. on January 1, 2007) it will automatically adopt the European Constitution, signed on October 29, 2004 in Rome. The document specifies as well that if the Constitution is not ratified by all the 25 parliaments of the EU member states by the date of our accession, the EU's founding treaties of Rome, Maastricht , Amsterdam and Nice will be applicable to Bulgaria. Our accession to the EURATOM Treaty as of 2007 stipulates another text.A curious clause is the one reading that the treaty will be enforced only after its ratification by the states which are parties under it (that is Bulgaria and Romania of the 25 countries). The deadline for doing that is December 31, 2006. The ratified documents will be presented to the government of Italy, which will be presiding the EU at that time and will be fulfilling the functions of a depositor for the agreement with Sofia and Bucarest. If any of the countries which have signed it does not ratify it within the due term, it will be in force only for those states which have done so. In that case the EU Council of Ministers should make a specific decision how to proceed in the relations between Bulgaria and the country which has not ratified the treaty. The good news is that even if such a disagreeable situation is arrived at, our membership in the EU can be legalized as of January 1, 2008 (i.e. twelve months after the initially planned term) by an unanimous decision of the EC, including the state and government leaders of the union. Putting their signatures to the accession treaty on April 25, 2005, the governments in Sofia and Bucarest undertake to strictly observe all declarations, decisions and stances, voted by the common European institutions. By their admission to the EU Bulgaria and Romania will have to denounce all their currently effective free trade agreements with the so-called third countries (outside the EU). After they join the community they will abide by the EU agreements with third countries in the sphere of textile, fishing and steel industry. Provisions regulating our financial relations with Brussels after 2007 are also interesting. Bulgaria's contribution to the capital of the European Investment Bank will be EUR14.8MN, to be remitted in equal tranches within eight years. The procedure for using the funds under the PHARE, ISPA and SAPARD pre-accession programmes is also treated in details. After Bulgaria becomes a full-fledged member of the EU it will get access to its Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund, but will still be implementing projects under the three above-mentioned programmes. It is planned that a little prior our admission EC representatives should check if the Bulgarian government has the necessary administrative capacity to manage the EU funds. If they establish that the country has it, Brussels will transfer to our authorities the execution of the so-called ex-ante control of the projects, as well as their approval and payments under them. Special attention has been paid to the distribution of nearly EUR4.3BN, which Bulgaria should receive in the 2007-2009 period under the so-called financial framework. One of the treaty's articles stipulates that during the first three years of its EU membership Bulgaria will get a compensation of EUR210MN (EUR70MN a year) for the decommissioning of the Kozlodoui N-plant's units 3 and 4.Brussels' most serious apprehensions concern the introduction of European standards in criminal jurisdiction, that will be included in the provisions of the accession treaty itself. For instance, under one of the proposed clauses, if amendments in the sphere of jurisdiction are delayed, the present EU members shall have the right to demand suspending of certain agreements under the Justice and Home Affairs chapter. The draft includes as well the so-called general protective clause, to be valid for three years after the treaty becomes effective, that allows any of the countries to take protective measures if there is a real risk to its economy.