BULGARIA'S NEGOTIATIONS WITH EU IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE
The state and government leaders of the EU member countries forgot to mention Bulgaria in the conclusive document of the meeting in Brussels (March 21-22). The part concerning the EU enlargement is mainly about a new organisation of 25 member countries and the forthcoming signing in Athens on April 16 of the agreements for the accession of the first ten new EU members from Central and Eastern Europe.
The EU leaders even did not confirm the promise to Bulgaria and Romania (as their did before) that if they continued with the reforms, they would join the EU around 2007. The unpleasant surprise came at a moment when Bulgaria's position on the conflict in Iraq arose questions if it won't have a negative impact on the pace of negotiations with the EU. The EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen tried to cheer up the minor mood in Bulgaria by assuring our Foreign Minister Solomon Passy during their meeting in Brussels that there would be no delay and that Bulgaria's position reagarding Iraq won't create any problems. However, quite a few analysts share the opinion that that we are witnessing the first symptom of serious difficulties regarding Bulgaria's and Romania's future integration in the EU family.And the horizon seemed so cloudless after the EU Summit in Coppenhagen in the end of 2002. The optimism that Bulgaria will be certainly accepted in the EU by 2007 and the negotiations on the remaining seven chapters are just a formality, was complemented by the fact that we shall not have to hold negotiations with the already approved EU candidate countries. But only a few months later talks began about a tranformation of the already popular enlargement scheme 10 plus 2 to 12 minus 2. In other words, this would mean a revision of the already reached decision during the meeting of the Dutch capital. Hints of a similar scenario can be found in the analysis of the influential NGO oranisation Eurasia Group, made public by the Bulgarian media. It has not yet been confirmed by any official from the EU, but as we well know nothing happens accidentally on the Old Continent. Experts on the European matters are convinced that after the war in Iraq the EU will concentrate on solving its internal problems and smoothing the recently demonstrated contraditions in froming joint stances on foreign policy issues. There are also uncertainties regarding the adaptation and the conditions of the unified market of the ten new EU members after May 2004, and teh work of the Intergovernmental Conference that will work out the EU's Constitution. All that could make Brussels forget temporarily about the second wave of enlargement.Bulgaria's former chief negotiator with the EU and ex deputy foreign minister in UDF's cabinet Vladimir Kisyov does not see, at least at the present stage, a direct connection between the war in Iraq and the possible standstill in the negotiations with the EU. According to him, however, during the Greek presidency (as of January 1, 2003) the myth about Bulgaria's lightning progress has been debunked. Initially, Chief Negotiator Meglena Kouneva's team projected to close between two and four chapters in the January - June, 2003 period, but chances for that are growing thinner and thinner. According to mr. Mr. Kisyov it would be good if everything is completed prior the elections for a new European Paliament and the appoinment of a new Ecuropean Commossion, whose term ends in 2004. As far as Ms. Kouneva is concerned, she quickly arrived to the opinion that the war in Iraq would cause certain difficulties in the negotiation process, but she was not in ahurry to say that her team would not complete its work by the end of 2003. However, in some of her recent public statements Ms. Kouneva said that the most term for closing down the last 30th chapter of the negotiations with the EU was the spring of 2004. She points out as an arguement the circumstance that position on some of the most difficult issues should be coordinated. Traditionally these isses are Budget and Finances, Justice and Internal Affairs, Agriculture, and Regional Policy. Budget and Finances is the always the last chapter, which is closed immediately prior the signing of the contract for accession. It will specify the amount of Bulgaria's contributions to the EU's common budget, as well as the portion of its funds that the country could use. But for that purpose the 15 member countries should first of all agree on the new financial framework of the EU, to be effective after 2007. As its is known, the EU's proceeds and expenditures are planned for a period of six years. Thus, by drafting the new budget, the question regarding Bulgaria's soon or later EU membership will be answered. According to inofficial information, the EC has projected to set aside funds for financing Bulgaria's acceesion.