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A Wise EU Decision on Bulgaria & Romania

by gradinski chai Wed Sep 6th, 2006 at 09:38:04 AM EST

Bulgaria, Romania under strictest EU eye
By George Parker and Daniel Dombey in Brussels and Kerin Hope in Athens

Bulgaria and Romania are set to get the go-ahead to join the European Union on January 1 under the strictest conditions ever applied to new members of the club.
Mr Rehn and Mr Barroso are understood to have rejected the idea of postponing Bulgaria or Romania's entry until 2008 - the toughest sanction available to the EU - on the grounds it would discourage reformers.

"We think the best way to achieve our aim is to work with them with the threat of these measures," said a senior European Commission official. "It's a better way to achieve results than by postponing until 2008."

Why is this such a wise decision?

The first measure that Rehn and Barroso are talking about is to withold EU funds that are supposed to go to the governments. This "in-but-no money" route is a brilliant decision by the Commission. I know that there is enlargement fatigue among members, but delaying Bulgarian and Romanian accession at this point (even though they are not completely ready) would be a real blow against any further reform. This formula allows the average citizen to see the EU as an ally against problematic governments and state administrations. By becoming members, the pains of the transition are rewarded. Populations can feel proud and/or relieved of something. This feel good factor is really necessary at present in both states.

Update [2006-9-6 12:29:4 by gradinski chai]:

EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini told Reuters that Bulgaria and Romania have to join the EU in 2007 without conditions, which would render them second-class members.
As I argue below, Frattini is just plain wrong.

Promoted by Colman

But not giving money for programs and explaining that the governments are at fault puts the real burden squarely where it belongs...on governments and state administrations that have done too little, too slowly, and too sporatically. The populations of both states know that there are still real problems, so this external validation and external pressure will be welcomed by the broad public.

In addition to witholding money, the other sanction (for Bulgaria) could be the decision to not recognize Bulgarian judicial decisions...certainly an embarrassment to the entire Bulgarian judicial system since it basically says that "we don't trust your decisions." While the country's chief prosecutor (I'm quite impressed with him by the way) has expressed concerns with this tactic, I have to disagree. This, too, is a wise decision.

I've mentioned this before in comments elsewhere, but I'll say it again. There is a common perception of widespread corruption among judges and prosecutors. There is some corruption (as evidenced by recent arrests), but this is not really as large of a problem as is popularly believed. Instead, from interactions with friends and acquaintances in the system, I would argue that there are two major problems to the judicial system.

First, there are problems with existing laws that govern judicial proceedings. Amazingly enough, judges are not in control of their own calendars. If you are ever arrested in Bulgaria and you want to stretch out the trial till the end of time, then all you have to do is hire a 3-4 lawyers to represent you instead of just one. Under existing law, if one of those lawyers cannot make a particular court date due to other court appearances, official work, or sickness, the trial cannot go forward and another date must be held. So what happens is that anyone rich enough to hire several lawyers simply drags out the trial for three, four, five or more years. Judges are left to act like secretaries at the end of a given session as they negotiate with the defendent's lawyers for a suitable next court date. This is a well known problem amongst legal experts, but parliament (perhaps for personal reasons) have done nothing about this.

The second difficulty of the Bulgarian judicial system lies in a judicial culture at the upper levels that seems unwilling to apply common reason to decisions and, instead, applies an overly attentive reading to small details of law. While some recent changes may somewhat change this, I'm not sure that they will sufficiently deal with this aspect of the problem. Perhaps this shaming of the judicial system will have a welcome effect. What it potentially does is make Bulgarian civil lawyers lose business since many private businesses will want to have their contracts and decisions legally recognized throughout the EU. Until Bulgarian court decisions are recognized throughout the EU, a Bulgarian businessman will be better off going to do some things in the nearby Greek or Romanian courts where the decisions will be recognized throughout the EU, than to try to wade through the Bulgarian system.

This is a long and detailed diary, I know, but I just thought that I should give credit where credit is due. Good work, Olli and good work Commission.

Good to hear your view on this, gradinski chai.

I note you mention the psychological boost that EU membership gives the population, can you elaborate on this a bit more. After all, there are plenty of discussions where people say that "without freedom of movement in the EU, what good is EU membership to these people"?

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Sep 6th, 2006 at 10:05:18 AM EST
The lack of freedom of movement is disappointing for those who understand that it is a possibility. Unfortunately perhaps, only a small percentage of the population really understands the concept of the four freedoms (free movement of goods, services, capital, and labor). The EU is seen more as a good uncle that will give lots of money and will provide a big market for producers. So many Bulgarians already work abroad (legally and illegally) in some of the member states, that I don't see the mass migration that some have spoken about. It could happen, but I'm not convinced.

The psychological boost that I see coming is one of reaffirmation. Of course, Bulgaria is a European state, but EU membership is demonstrated proof of this. NATO membership was something along these lines. It demonstrated that Bulgaria had really arrived and that something good could happen. In a sense, it is a blow against those who might think that nothing good can really happen...the doubters and pessimists.

In this sense, membership, even if it is under these conditions allows the possibility of even greater public pressure upon a reluctant government and state administration.  

by gradinski chai on Wed Sep 6th, 2006 at 12:21:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Gradinski chai, your depiction of Bulgarian justice reminds me eerily of Italian justice. It's ironic that a Berlusconi appointee (Frattini) should make such a statement. Perhaps he was thinking of home where a similar treatment by the EU might help.

Ultimately, the issue in Italy- and I suppose Bulgaria- lies at the doorstep of the legislative branch, all too ready to pass laws to render the judiciary ineffectual.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Wed Sep 6th, 2006 at 06:54:28 PM EST
One of my colleagues argues quite convincingly that most of the states of southeast Europe have settled into a quasi-democracy that is reminiscent of (particularly southern) Italy. By "quasi" is meant that clientelistic networks still dominate the economy, particularly in some smaller towns. Political parties have connections with these networks as well.  In the last campaign for parliamentary elections, the leader of one of the political parties even argued that this was natural and just part of good old democracy.
by gradinski chai on Thu Sep 7th, 2006 at 01:16:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I've come to call it mock democracy. It usually encourages corrupt high-class parasites to screw citizens along with organized crime and covert associations.
by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Thu Sep 7th, 2006 at 07:58:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Are there areas in these countries newly joining the EU that are attractive from the holiday home viewpoint? At least in the U.S., areas like Arkansas and South Carolina, while low on the overall economy scale, are attractive for people interested in retirement away from the city. Does this concept translate to Europe?
by asdf on Wed Sep 6th, 2006 at 10:36:16 PM EST
This is increasingly becoming the case. The real estate market in Bulgaria (as anyone in the UK already knows) is seen as perfect for second home owners. What this has done is to triple the price of real estate in Sofia and some of the larger cities over the last seven years.

This has created a very difficult housing market for Bulgarians to enter. Fortunately, Bulgaria has the highest home ownership rate in Europe...more than 80% own their own home...and by that I mean that it's already paid for or close to it.

by gradinski chai on Thu Sep 7th, 2006 at 01:22:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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