It’s a question I’ve asked before, not least when the backwards Balkan oddity first joined. And now, finally, the EU powers that be seem to have noticed that, erm… letting in a notoriously corrupt, organised crime-ridden country with a dodgy economy and poor track record on human rights may just have been a bad idea.
And so EU funding to Bulgaria has been cut off, with hefty warnings for that other bastion of economic might and social liberalism, Romania.
A handy summary of the European Commission’s report on Bulgaria has a number of highlights – all of which would tend to suggest that, erm, Bulgaria wasn’t quite ready for EU accession last year, and so shouldn’t have been allowed to join:
The Penal Code is outdated and is part of the reason why the judiciary is overloaded… The administrative capacity of both law enforcement and the judiciary is weak… There are signs of corruption in the health and education sectors… A strategic approach to fighting local corruption is missing. The anti-corruption Commission of the Council of Ministers has not been active in this regard… The fight against high level corruption and organised crime is not producing enough results…
And so on, and so on…
Of course, corruption alone is nothing too unusual within the EU. But Bulgaria also falls down in countless other areas, as the US State Department’s 2007 report on Human Rights in the country notes:
The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, police frequently beat criminal suspects, particularly members of minority groups… Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported complaints of police brutality from Romani victims who were too intimidated to lodge official complaints with authorities… Human rights groups continued to claim that medical examinations in cases of police abuse were not properly documented, that allegations of police abuse were seldom investigated thoroughly, and that offending officers were very rarely punished… Prison conditions generally did not meet international standards, and the government did not allocate funds to make significant improvements… The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, there were reports that police at times ignored these prohibitions… Impunity remained a problem. All complaints involving interior ministry personnel and other police forces, as well as military personnel, are adjudicated by the military court system.
And on, and on… They could also have mentioned the arbitrary arrest of political dissidents.
And it’s not as if its economy is booming either, ranking worse than Turkey’s, and – according to Wikipedia, at least – with inflation fluctuating between a low of 2.3% and high of 7.3% over the last five years, while “Bulgaria’s per-capita PPP GDP is still only about a third of the EU25 average, while the country’s nominal GDP per capita is about 13% of the EU25 average.”
Oh, and lest we forget, Bulgaria also signed a gas pipeline deal with Russia earlier this year which has caused some serious problems for the EU’s own planned Nabucco pipeline – designed to lessen Europe’s reliance on Russian gas – and thus handed the Kremlin even greater dominance over the European energy market.
So, as I say, the country is corrupt, has a poor human rights record and a dodgy economy, and seems to be making little progress with any of these, while at the same time is undermining EU efforts to stabilise the continent’s vital energy supplies – so what the hell is it doing in the EU? “Serious concerns” were being raised by the European Commission as late as May 2006 – just seven months before the country was allowed to join, so I’m genuinely fascinated to know who thought it would be a good idea…
More to the point, have any positives been gained from Bulgarian entry? – bar the amusement factor of rabidly right-wing Bulgarian MEPs making arses of themselves, that is.
The EU is meant to have standards. Membership is supposed to be a reward for having met those standards. Bulgaria patently has come up short – and yet it’s been rewarded anyway. Is it any wonder that Turkey’s getting so pissed off?