BULGARIA AND THE EUROPEAN UNION

Established in the wake of the Second World War, the European Union (EU) is a supranational multilateral organization which generates an estimated 30% of the world's total Gross Domestic Product. In addition to being an economic powerhouse, the European Union (formerly the European Economic Community) represents near total European integration in the political, judicial, social and economic spheres. Accordingly, the European Union has evolved dramatically in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and has recently undergone multiple stages of expansion. Bulgaria and Romania are the two most recent inductees into this exclusive club and full Bulgarian integration into the European Union has been stymied by a variety of domestic factors. Although Bulgarian has implemented significant institutional changes, it still must overcome its past and some important domestic hurdles. This research paper will explore the accession of Bulgaria into the ranks of the European Union through an analysis of the process, as well as the challenges this country faces within the EU framework. This is important, not only for Bulgaria and current EU member states but also for future EU enlargement. Accordingly, accelerated Europeanisation will be discussed with reference to the Bulgarian case in the European Union (Richardson 2001, p. 44; Nugent 2003,23-33; see Warleigh 2004).
The EU is a supranational body composed of constituent member states, found largely on the European peninsula. Democracy, negotiation, and collective decision-making through multilateralism are all inherent attributes of the modern EU. As a multinational organization, the EU represents various national interests within an overarching political framework. The EU is an international organization which operates on the basis of negotiation between member states and relies on collective decision-making to achieve its ends. Members are joined together and bound by treaties signifying their participation within the larger EU political framework. The political decisions of member-states are thus constrained by their allegiance and signatory status to overarching EU treaties (Almond et al 2002, p 2-22).
Today, membership in the European Union is actively sought by nearly all countries on the European peninsula as well as by one country straddling both Europe and Middle Asia (Turkey). Although there were initially only five members of the precursor to the European Union (Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands and West Germany), there are presently 27 countries in the EU and they are, in alphabetical order, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, the Republic of Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and finally, the United Kingdom. Countries currently seeking membership in the EU include parts of the former Federal State of Yugoslavia as well as Turkey. A political and economic powerhouse, this intergovernmental organization is estimated to account for up to 30% of the world's total Gross Domestic Product (see Warleigh 2004).
Although it has not always been the case, modern-day Europe is characterized by a unifying democratic political culture. While the concept of democracy originated on its shores, the philosophy of democratic governance was challenged in 20th century Europe by authoritarian political movements, including fascism (expressed by Nazi Germany & Mussolini's Italy), and communism (as exemplified in Eastern Europe during the Cold War). With Allied victory in World War II and the recent collapse of the Soviet Union, democracy - in varying degrees- is now a universal trend amongst European states. In fact liberal democracy, best expressed by the states of Western Europe with entrenched democratic traditions, is quickly becoming the standard for the continent. Democratic norms and rules have subsequently been established through a pan-European legal framework, the European Union (Almond et al 2002, 33-44).
On April 25, 2005, Bulgaria signed a Treaty of Accession to the European Union with the objective of obtaining full fledged membership by January 2007. Accession criteria, as outlined in Copenhagen, established certain prerequisites for future membership in the EU. These include steps towards democratization, free markets, a free media and checks and balances on the state's organs of coercion. As a CEEC country - a candidate country of Central and Eastern Europe - Bulgaria was eligible for aid from the EU as well as support in the creation of an accession road map. Charting the progress of Bulgaria in obtaining the required pre-requisites for membership, the European Commission published its Regular Report on Bulgaria (2002) setting out the legal framework for accession as well as the financial resources available from EU member states to prepare Bulgaria for eventual European Union membership. Key points in the Regular Report on Bulgaria stressed medium to long term economic priorities, a strategy to combat organized crime and strategies to strengthen Bulgaria's judicial and administrative capabilities. Establishing a framework for Bulgarian accession, the European Union set stringent conditions which Bulgaria had to meet with particular emphasis on crime and corruption. Importantly, the adherence to this framework and the ability of Bulgaria to tackle these important priorities set the stage the financial framework between Bulgaria and the EU, an important aspect of the accession process (Preston 1997, p 22-34; European Union 2008).
Initially created to help two countries (Hungary and Poland) obtain EU membership, the Phare program is an important economic component of the pre-accession process. Bulgaria was an important recipient of financial aid from Phare and from 1992 to 2003 Bulgaria received approximately ?1.54 billion from this EU body. Importantly, Phare aid over a four year pre-accession period, 200-2004 was estimated at ?178 million annually and this amount was determined upon following an agreement between the EU and Bulgaria to dismantle and close the Kozloduv nuclear power plant in 1999. Thus, nuclear plant decommissioning played an important role in the EU decision to grant financial aid to Bulgaria in the pre- accession process (European Union 2008).
In addition to nuclear decommissioning, the European Union, through Phare, provided Bulgaria with a substantial amount of financial aid in the pre-accession period. Priorities for Phare were political, economic and social. Seeing inherent weaknesses in Bulgaria and attempting to address some of the most important concerns, Phare financial assistance was allocated to strengthen public administration, improve political and administrative transparency, fight corruption and fraud, protect ethnic minorities and promote the competitive of the economy. Accordingly, on January 1st 2007, Bulgaria was welcomed by the European Union as its newest member state.
Although inducted as an EU member, Bulgaria has had to overcome some significant challenges in its attempt to meet the requirements of EU membership and effectively "Europeanize" itself at record pace. Democracy is not as entrenched within Bulgarian society as it is amongst the other developed countries of the EU and due to a historical legacy of authoritarian rule during both the Communist and Ottoman periods. The social legacy of authoritarian Communist rule is evidenced in the rampant crime and corruption which besets Bulgaria today. Accordingly, Bulgarian distrust of the outside world, minority communities and multilateral bodies like the EU, is exemplified through extreme nationalism and the appearance of political parties like ATAKA which advocate a chauvinistic form of Bulgarian nationalism. Groups like the MRF represent an affront to ATAKA and as ethically-based political communities, may pose a hindrance to the eventual full European integration of the Bulgarian state. Crime and endemic corruption are also important domestic factors which have recently overshadowed some of the attempts of the Bulgarian state to fully democratize and Europeanize through a top-down approach to full European integration (European Union 2008; Lungescu 2008, p. 12; Wood and Quaisser 2008, p. 32-44).
As has been noted above, crime remains an important domestic problem in Bulgaria and perceptions of rampant throughout the country played a significant role in delaying Bulgaria's eventual introduction into the EU. While 10 members were inducted into the Union prior to the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, conditionality remained an important aspect of Bulgaria's admittance into the EU.
Concluding Remarks
The European Union is arguably the world's most successful attempt at regional integration. The motto of the EU is "unity in diversity" and collective bargaining, negotiation and a plurality of opinion are attributes of today's EU. The European Union represents democracy at work and recent treaties obligating all members to abide by common standards in the political and social realms affirm a common standard among the states of Europe. In fact, "by agreeing to pursue that interest within an organization as constraining as the European Union, the member-states have recognized the ultimate superiority of multilateral, as opposed to unilateral, decision making and action in a variety of policy arenas". Accordingly, multilateralism, democracy, and collective decision making are at the heart of today's European Union (Almond et al 2002, p 33-56).
EU constituent states universally welcome the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent reform of Eastern and Central Europe. While praising the end of the socialist experiment on the shores of the continent and encouraging the full democratization of the former satellite states of the Soviet block, European Union policymakers also welcomed the collapse for a variety of other reasons. For EU policymakers and tacticians, Eastern Europe presented a series of opportunities. Newly embracing capitalism and the democratic ideals of the West, states of the former Soviet empire were, for EU policymakers, an emerging opportunity. Yes, Eastern and Central Europe represented growth for the EU.
Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union as new member states on the first day of the New Year in 2007. Although both are former members of the socialist Soviet Block, each has taken steps towards full integration in a United Europe and have embraced - at least in theory - democracy, a respect for human rights and the supremacy of the market as opposed to planned centralized economic policies. Bulgaria and Romania each has faced their own challenges and domestic problems with respect to EU integration (Wood and Quaisser 2008, p. 32-44).
The European Union approached the accession of Bulgaria into its ranks with an understanding that Bulgaria needed to overcome some significant domestic obstacles in order to obtain full membership. These included the presence of an active nuclear reactor (Kozloduv), a weak judiciary, widespread crime and perceived corruption within the Bulgarian state administration. The Romanian accession process was similar to that of Bulgaria and Romania faced many of the same concerns which plagued the Bulgarian candidacy. These included a weak judiciary, high crime and persistent corruption. Although these problems are far from being eradicated, in Romania they have proven to be far less pronounced than in Bulgaria.
Accordingly, despite attempts to combat these problems and a significant amount of Phare funding aimed at eradicating these concerns, Bulgaria remains beset by rampant crime and corruption. Just two months ago in fact, on November 25 2008 the European Union took the extraordinary step of fining Bulgaria ?220 million over its failures to tackle corruption and organized crime within the country. This follows the decision in July 2008 to freeze more than ?500 million in foreign aid to the country for the same reasons mentioned above. Seeing entrenched corruption and the persistence of crime in the country as major impediments to the full European integration of Bulgaria, the European Commission took these unprecedented step in punishing what Transparency International calls the "most corrupt of the EU's 27 member states". Thus, while
Romania and Bulgaria each had particular challenges to overcome in their respective bids for EU candidacy and the European Union approached the accession process in each instance with a mixture of trepidation and enthusiasm, the case of Bulgaria today lends credence to the belief that perhaps it was not yet ready for full membership into this important transnational body (Almond 2002, p. 107; BBC 2008).
While reinventing itself in the post-Cold War world and integrating former members of the Soviet block into its ranks, the EU has demonstrated a strong and sustained trajectory for growth. Will the EU continue to expand eastward, perhaps into Serbia or even Turkey? That remains to be seen. However, by developing in line with its ideals, the European Union has shown strength and sustainability and will continue to grow, for the benefit of Europe as a whole. Positive attributes of continued expansion and growth include new markets for EU goods and the development of strong pro-Western values with neighbors which once belonged to the Soviet sphere of influence. Negative attributes, as exemplified by the cases of Romania and Bulgaria, include welcoming countries which are not fully prepared for EU membership due to domestic factors such as political instability, corruption and poor market-orientated policies. Will future growth be positive for the EU? That remains to be seen.

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