MINISTER KUNEVA TO BE THE CAT'S PAW AGAIN
The Minister of European Affairs and the EU trace out the annual report on BulgariaOn the same day Meglena Kuneva, Minister of European Affairs, learned that Plamen Panayotov was appointed vice-premier and would supervise her sector, she took part in the 9th meeting of the Bulgaria-EU Joint Parliamentary Committee. The meeting was held in Brussels on July 16 and aimed at making impartial review of the advance in negotiations, popularized by Bulgarian politicians. The event was important also because of the fact that it was organised just a week after the EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen visited Bulgaria. In Sofia, he made a withering statement about the need of immediate amendments to the Constitution. The only thing that Bulgarian politicians did not yet know was the deadline - the beginning of September.As it happened often in the past two years, Minister Kuneva had to pull the burning chestnuts out of the fire because of the sluggishness demonstrated by the Bulgarian government, parliament, and administration. I already feel awkward about disguising our country's delay to the European Union, she said on a press conference before leaving for Brussels. Even if she hadn't said that, the EU would inevitably notice the neglect shown by some Bulgarian ministries towards preparing bills on the Strategy for Accelerating Negotiations with the EU. According to a clause of this strategy, the group working on the constitutional amendments had to start working in 2002. Moreover, a law on the selection of European Parliament members should already have become valid. Priority bills like those on public procurement, telecommunications, energy, remain frozen between their first and second reading in parliament.From now on, it is Plamen Panayotov, until recently leader of the parliamentary majority, that will take care of preventing such failures.The European Union promised us to achieve our goal in 2007, but we have to make efforts in order to move the negotiation process, Minister Kuneva said for the BANKER weekly not long ago. Considering these problems, it seems like a miracle that Bulgaria managed to close 25 out of 30 chapters of negotiations with the EU. Still, Guenter Verheugen reminded, all efforts would go for nothing if no amendments are made to that part of the Constituion related to the judicial system, and also if the European Commission fails to recommend in its report on Bulgaria's progress that conversations be over by autumn 2004. However, the immunity, the authorization, and the irremovability of magistrates is not the only danger on Bulgaria's road to the EU. All advantages and disadvantages will be discussed in the report which is to be officially published on November 5, 2003. In Brussels, the delegation led by Minister Kuneva (who also visited Italy, the EU presiding country) was cross-examined on 18 sections of the European Association Agreement signed by Bulgaria and the EU.Surprisingly, the good news concerns the meeting of the economic requirements for membership. Within the 30-minute debates in the programme of the Joint Committee, the Bulgarian delegation presented the results from a special report on the competitiveness of the Bulgarian economy. According to experts from the European Integration Direction at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the country will probably be praised for the macroeconomic stability, the high growth of GDP, the low inflation, the shrinking unemployment rate, and the liberalisation of some administratively-regulated prices. Meglena Kuneva also informed her European partners about the amendments to the Commercial Law adopted by the parliament which accelerate the company insolvency procedure. She also told them about the application of a programme for restriction of the licence and permission regimes. Most probably, the commission will appeal to speeding up the privatisation and the restructuring of state monopolistic companies in the field of energy and transport. Its experts will also insist on the land market incentives. Bulgaria may be criticized for its negative trade balance and the deficit on the balance of payment current account. In her report to the EU representatives, Minister Kuneva highlighted the improved capacity of Bulgarian administration to develop projects and assimilate financial resources. However, the EU will hardly appreciate the continuing battles between the authorities for the money launched by the union. Minister Kuneva's report also stressed on the government's achievements in the field of administrative reforms. Still, the opinion of the European commissioners in November will depend on whether the parliament has managed to amend the Law on State Officials in time. Part of the questions asked by representatives of the 15 Joint Committee member countries referred to the results from the anticorruption strategy, adopted by the Bulgarian government in autumn 2001. Even if these results are brilliant, they will not put a gloss on last spring's scandals accusing ministers, members of the parliament, magistrates and customs officers of having unregulated contacts with suspicious businessmen.In Brussels, the Bulgarian delegation reported on the progress made in the political sector, too. Problems may only arise if the voting of the Law against Discrimination is delayed. The adopted laws on the ombudsman and religion are pointed as advantages in the field of the human and minority rights.More details on the EC report on Bulgaria's progress will be known in the end of September. Until then, it's the government and the parliament to take action.