Банкеръ Weekly

Briefs

MODERATE OPTIMISM ABOUT THE RATIFICATION

Ratification of international contracts is usually a routine parliamentary procedure and seldom causes particular interest. But things look differently in the European Union (EU) when it is a matter of approving amendments to the fundamental treaties or agreements for accepting new countries into the community. At present, Bulgaria and Romania are bearing the consequences of that. The two Balkan countries, which signed on April 25 a common treaty for their accession to the EU, are practically hostages to the will of the MPs from the 25 member countries. It's sufficient to mention that the enforcement of the Luxembourg Accession Treaty could be postponed by a year if it is not ratified till end-2006 even by a single EU member state. The period when this should happen does not seem optimistic to Sofia and Bucarest. The old members' lassitude of the EU enlargement to the East, which began in 2004, is becoming more and more evident. At the same time, the community is being thorn by internal contradictions regarding the failure of the new EU constitution, the lack of agreement about the unified budget, and the negotiations with Turkey which have already started.
On the background of all that, the speed at which the ratification of out Accession Treaty with the EU is going on, could be assessed as moderately optimistic. The consecutive (seventh) ratification came on Tuesday (December 6) when the Czech Republic finally approved the Accession Treaty of Bulgaria and Romania by the votes of representatives in the two parliamentary chambers. Earlier, the same was done by another six member countries. Slovakia was the first that ratified the Luxembourg treaty, on June 21, followed by Slovenia and Hungary (on September 29), Cyprus and Greece (on October 27), and Estonia (on November 16). Great Britain, Spain and Lithuania are expected to follow suit by the end of 2005. The ratification by the UK is of extreme importance as Great Britain is one of the major factors in the enlargement process. Hopes for that to happen are fed by the problem-free discussions in the House of Commons in London. The British Ambassador to Bulgaria, H.E. Jeremy Hill commented he was not expecting any serious objections in the House of Lords either when voting Bulgaria's candidacy.
According to Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin, the maximalist programme is that the number of ratifications reaches twelve by the year-end, i.e. about half of all EU members. At the present stage, however, problems are foreseen in Germany, France, Austria, Sweden and Denmark (where the process has already begun). Representatives of the Ministry of European Affairs told the BANKER weekly that the ratification procedure in the Federal Republic of Germany will start in January 2006. But the approval of the Accession Treaty by the Bundestag and and the Bundesrat will last at least half a year. That means that the conclusive voting will be after the Final Monitoring Report of the European Commission (EC) is made public on May 17, 2006. In a lecture to the Atlantic Club during the week the Minister of European Affairs Meglena Kouneva said she has received the German Government's assurance that it has no objections whatsoever against Bulgaria's EU accession. As it is known, Austria will take up the EU Presidency as of the New Year and and the speeded ratification of the Luxembourg treaty of Bulgaria and Romania is expected to be among its priorities. The voting in Sweden's Parliament has been scheduled fo next June. France is yet to decide when the issue will be considered. Paris will most probably wait for the EC's conclusions in May 2006. Similar tactics have been chosen by Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal and Ireland as well.
Troubles for us could arise on the part of the Netherlands and Belgium. Discussions in the two-chamber Parliament have already begun in Amsterdam. During the debate, however, representatives of the ruling Christian Democrats in the Second Chamber declared themselves for postponing the voting for later on. Finally, the Dutch MPs decided to send a total of 77 inquiries about our country's readiness for EU membership, which the Bulgarian Government should answer and only afterwards the Second Chamber will decided if to proceed with the voting.
Problems in Belgium are connected foremost with the complicated procedure. Due to the federal structure of the kingdom the Accession Treaty is subject to approval by seven assemblies (federal, regional and communal, included). Belgium's Supreme Administrative Court will also extend its stance on the clauses of the Accession Treaty.
If everything goes on as planned, in the early spring of next year we should have the treaty ratified by Poland, Finland and Latvia.
Of course, all efforts could go for nothing in case of a negative analysis on the part of the EC and enforcement of the specific safeguard measure, so-called postponement clause, delaying the envisaged date of accession of Bulgaria or Romania by one year to January 2008. That is why, instead of lobbying to the EU members, Bulgaria rulers should better stake on the implementation of undertaken commitments.

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