BULGARIA LOOKS AT ITSELF IN EU'S DISTORTING MIRROR
25 PARTNERS' INSPECTIONS TO ASSESS THE COUNTRY'S PREPARATION FOR ACCESSION IN JULYIn the course of the speedy negotiations for Bulgaria's integration into the European Union (EU) no special attention was paid to the warnings that opening and closing chapters was not the only important thing to be done. The commitments made had to be observed, too. When the so called monitoring clause was included in the agreement on the finalization of the negotiation marathon and Bulgaria's integration according to plan was endangered, there was some sobering indeed. The fears will probably fall away next October 12, when the European Commission (EC) is going to publish its regular report on the country's progress. Bulgarian authorities are convinced that it will be the last pre-joining report of the commissioners. Before triumphing, however, the administration will have to live through 25 EU partners' inspections. They will be held in July and must find out how the commitments made are being observed. The inspections will involve representatives of each of the 25 EC member states and their conclusions will be added to the preliminary monitoring report prepared last May. Considering the conclusions of this report alone, Bulgarian officials need to prey for more indulgent inspectors. Otherwise, Bulgarians will have to listen to the Premier Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha's appeal and stop looking at the world through pink glasses.According to experts from the Council of Ministers the adoption of a few important bills has been delayed significantlyAmong them are the unfinished Health Act as well as the pending amendments to the Insurance Act which will eliminate the requirement obliging companies from the branch to invest up to 50% of their reserves in securities issued or guaranteed by the government or the municipalities. The future amendments to the Social Insurance Code will free the pension funds from the same burden, too. Also important is the bill on the genetically modified systems which is currently being discussed by the parliamentary Health Commission and which had to be adopted by the end of June. It is not accidental that Romano Prodi's subordinates wrote in their report: The new legislation on the genetically modified systems must be adopted soon, if Bulgaria wants to stick to its internal legislative framework.There are other bills that are urgent, too, including those on the cultural monuments and the civil aviation, participants in the negotiations claim. Bulgaria has been seriously blamed for the forgotten legislative acts attached to the Public Procurement Act, adopted last spring. Even the regulation for its application is not ready several months after the act was published. Besides, the Ministry of Economy will have to work on two other regulations. One of them will regulate public procurement below the amounts established by the law, and the other will arrange procurement in the field of defence and national security. The delay of the new laws allowed the Minister of European Affairs, Meglena Kouneva, to appeal tothe Parliament not to go on holidayuntil it finishes its work. However, in such cases the Chairman of the parliamentary European Integration Commission, Daniel Vulchev, usually replies that nobody has asked the MPs when making the schedules, so nobody should ask them miracles. During a seminar in Sandanski, Minister Kouneva said that the commitments on the chapters Agriculture, Environment and Transport faced the biggest problems. However, it would be delusive to think that everything is all right with the rest of the chapters. There is still a lot to be done in the free providing of services and the free cash flows, for example. Potential amendments to the Law on Insurance of Bank Deposits should be discussed in Parliament by the year-end, too. The amendments will fix at BGN22,000 the lowest protected amount of savings as of January 2005. A special body must also be established by the end of the year to provide extrajudicial settlement of disputes between banks and their customers. Besides, Brussels recommends that amendments be made to the Law on Protection of Personal Data, because its main notions did not correspond to the ones accepted in the EU.As far as chapter Competition is concerned, Sofia is advised to harmonize in advance all possible preventive measures such as rescheduling and postponing tax liabilities, ceding social insurance and taking legislative measures related to privatisation.Difficult tasks have also been assigned to the tax administration. The EC requires that decrees for the excise warehouses be adopted urgently. The introduction of these warehouses is planned for the early 2006, but the regulations have to be prepared much earlier. Bulgaria is also late in preparing the transfer, from the tax authorities to the Customs Agency, of the rights to collect excise duties for transactions made within the country.The EC monitoring report pays special attention to the necessity oftightening the internal control, audit, and investigation of tax fraudsThe Fiscal Investigation Service (already known as the tax police) is expected to start operations from 2005. But it is not clear how it will happen, considering that the draft on its establishment has not passed through the plenary hall.There are fewer remarks regarding the Budget and Financial Issues chapter. They relate mainly to the harmonization of the Bulgarian financial statistics with that of EUROSTAT.However, the deadline for restructuring the Customs Agency is not observed. As the BANKER weekly wrote, the restructuring includes separating the customs investigation and intelligence in two directorates at the central customs department. In turn, the drugs traffic directorate and the one controlling commodities with potential dual use had to be united no later than end-January.It seems improbable that the Ministry of Justice puts forwards the Administration Code for discussion by the Council of Ministers by next November. The code will replace the currently operating laws on administrative procedure, administrative violations and sanctions, and the Supreme Administrative Court. We should not forget either that new Civil Procedures Code and Criminal Procedure Code must be adopted by the time Bulgarian joins the EU. Bulgaria's commitments made but not fulfilled did not appear an obstacle fro startingthe preparation of the accession agreementwhich the country will sign with the community members. Experts from the European Integration and Relations with the International Financial Institutions Directorate at the Council of Ministers told the BANKER weekly that the structure of the 5,000-page document was already clear. It will contain 31 parts well known from the negotiation process. Supplements, protocols and other texts will be additionally signed as well. They will provide the general principles of the country's integration into the EU, clauses correcting some of the current agreements, permanent and temporary regulations, norms referring to the Schengen legislation, and directives adopted by the European Council or the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament that haven't been viewed during the negotiations. One of the most important supplements will be the one that regulates the financial and budget issues of the accession agreement.By order of Bulgaria's PM, the coordination of the harmonization of the texts of the future agreement was entrusted to the head of the Bulgarian mission at the EU, Stanislav Daskalov, to the European Integration and Relations with the International Financial Institutions Directorate headed by Zinaida Veleva, and the European Integration Directorate at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs presided by Boiko Mirchev.