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The full-aged Bulgaria

Published on , , Sofia

I remember my surprise at the October European Council in Brussels when Prime Minister David Cameron succeeded in making the issue about the budget of the Community for 2011 point number one in the agenda, although number one point before that was the much more popular issue of euro area's economic governance. In fact my surprise was not caused by the actions of the British prime minister but by the reaction of the Bulgarian - Boyko Borissov. At this summit we learnt that Bulgaria had supported Britain's wish the budget to be increased by no more than 2.9% against the backdrop of the European Parliament's insistence for an almost 6% increase.

So, replying to a question how much Bulgaria's contribution to the budget would increase, at the end of the summit Mr Borissov said that he did not know, "I am not going to pay it now". This reply was given before Bulgarian journalists in a moment when the national budget was being discussed in Parliament. In other words, the premier was not only obliged to know with how much the contribution would increase but he also had to know that before starting to defend the position of one or another EU member state, especially given the debates on the national budget. Because he might have not been expected to strike the table with a bunch of money during the Council, but the size of our contribution was expected to be planned in the annual budget.

Something like this happened with the even more important issue of Bulgaria's joining the Euro+ Pact and the accession to the extremely important European Stability mechanism (ESM). The Prime Minister announced surprisingly on Thursday noon that Bulgaria would insist at the Spring European Council (that was to start in the afternoon the same day) to join the two inventions. The fact of joining is based on a decision of the Government, taken in the form of a signature - a very disrespectful procedure for something of such importance.

Not only this but it also became clear that the Prime Minister had obviously not read the draft of the pact, nor its final version, nor was he interested in it. Because ever since the news had been announced the society is being shaken by a vigorous resistance, but not against the premier's manners but against practically not very correct formulations, of which euinside wrote in details. There should be no doubt that the Euro+ Pact is a step to the right direction, nor should there be doubts regarding the accession to the ESM, as for the latter we practically have no choice at the moment, as this choice has been made with our signing of the Accession Treaty on April 25th 2005 at a ceremony in Luxembourg. In the Treaty it is stipulated that Bulgaria has to join the eurozone, without being specified when.

This is enshrined in article 5 of the Act to the Accession Treaty, in which it is written that Bulgaria and Romania participate in the Economic and Monetary Union as from the date of their accession as member states with a derogation under article 122 of the Treaty of the European Community. A state with a derogation, according to article 122 means until the country fulfills the criteria for membership in the Economic and Monetary Union.

First problem - information eclipse

One of the many, but I think, most important problems is the lack of information. Information which could help us not only calculate any specific amount of money but to understand why the Government had taken an important decision. And this is a problem in principle of which euinside wrote not once.

Resistance is the second problem,

which I hope ensues from the first and is not the result of any targeted and organised attack. This problem is litearally the tsunami of negative reactions against this decision. As we have many times tried to explain, the Bulgarian participation in the ESM is being announced at the moment not because we will start paying the money as of tomorrow but because the entire mechanism is being created now and completely. Therefore, no matter when the other countries will join the euro area, their participation in the mechanism must be under the same conditions as for the current members. As the ESM has been created with an amendment to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Community (TFEC), Bulgaria, as all the other member states in the European Union, is supposed to ratify the amendment, i.e. to give its consent for the creation of the Mechanism.

The bad thing is that the wave of criticism went beyond the ESM and spilled over to the Euro+ Pact, which is in itself a good idea in terms of guidelines for economic development.

This reaction reminds the behaviour of an already full-aged member of the family whom the parents had told - come on, my boy, you are a grown-up now, find a job, take care of yourself as we are overloaded with problems, loans, burdens so it is time for you to contribute to the common good if you are to live with us under the same roof. I will not commit myself to calculating how much money Bulgaria had received so far from the European taxpayers since the time of the ecus (European Currency Units) - this is billions of euro. This is billions of investments in Bulgaria to the moment when (this moment if not here yet, was supposed to be very close) the country will catch up with the developed European economies, so that all could go hand in hand together and not some to tug the rest.

Instead, we know the story with the euro money - some was stolen, some was not absorbed, some wrote bad projects, governments change, the money was pouring or was frozen, then unfrozen, then reduced, the absorption rates were low and so on. The result? Ridiculous. The EU has currently no time, nor a need, to understand what is Bulgaria's problem. The EU says: we have a problem - the financial crisis, unreasonable policies, wrong decisions - we have to exit this situation. How? By remembering what exactly solidarity means. In spite of the internal political temptation Greece and Ireland to be left to fail, the interconnectedness of European economies, especially in the EMU is so strong that everyone is aware that a failure creates a risk of dragging the rest down.

This is why in the framework of only a year, which in a European perspective (the writing of the Lisbon Treaty took almost 10 years) is actually suddenly, something gigantic for Europe has been created - economic governance, aimed at stabilising the European economy. Bulgaria not only has to take part, she is interested in it because the larger part of its exports is to the EU and the euro area in particular. The same motives drove eurosceptic Britain, ruled by the biggest opponents of the kingdom's membership to the euro area (the conservatives), to be the most vigorous defender of the single currency being stabilized and to start generating economic growth.

Moreover, Bulgaria is currently in a currency board, which, to a large extent, is a premise for the good fiscal results at the moment. With the accession to the eurozone, though, which we are obliged to do when we fulfill the criteria (there is no deadline), things will change. Although the new economic governance creates a little bit tighter implementation of stability measures, the most significant part of economic decisions remains a national prerogative. This means that we have to be aware that for one reason or another (it is not difficult to name some) Bulgaria might some day need assistance from the ESM, which will begin operations as of July 2013 and will help countries in need, under tough rules and conditions, by giving the possibility of vital blood transfusion at a low price.

And if we roughly calculate that Ireland, which is correlative with us as a size of a country, has received 85bn euro from the temporary rescue fund, then the debate about whether Bulgaria should pay 3bn euro or 6bn euro in the permanent fund are actually ridiculous. Because, if our country would ever need to be saved, then it might prove that we will receive no less than several tens of billions of euro. Against this background, the contribution and the guarantees with which our country is committed are just the most inappropriate issue for a conversation.

A third problem - is Bulgaria mature for the EU?

Bulgaria indeed behaves like a full-aged person still in puberty, who refuses to take responsibility for his own development. The examples of Schengen, the Control and Verification Mechanism in the area of justice, the discussions about prices, monopolies and the important long-term decisions in the area of energy, continue to demonstrate a refusal to wean and to be independent and responsible in the framework of the voluntarily made choice for a life in a community.

And this problem is no less important than the rest. Because, you have to agree, that with its good and bad decisions the European Union is our logical choice. A choice which gives us the right of a vote, especially when we have done our job so that we do not allow our partners tell us - you there do not do anything right, so be silent. It is ridiculous to bargain about pennies when it is about billions of euro of benefits, if of course we finally start taking advantage of them.

After all, if this 3, 4 or 6 billion or no matter how much, is so important why don't we start reducing the number of employees in the Ministry of the Interior, the annual budget of which is the biggest (1bn levs, or 0.5bn euro) and is constantly growing while the effect of their work is not just disputable but it is invisible. Or to increase the retirement age so that the pressure on the thin budget could be relieved and so that we start finally working a little bit more if we need this money so desperately much.

Or, as an extreme but strongly patriotic measure, we could leave the European Union and continue our path the way we deem best. Then, though, we might not easily get a loan in order to fill the budget gap or, if we get a loan, the interest rate would be hard to afford. By the way, the scenario must be painfully familiar because it was not that long ago when 1997 happened (when Bulgaria went bankrupt).

And it is important to remember that before the pact for the euro crystallized into the Euro+ Pact, it was planned as a slamming of the door before us with the Pact for Competitiveness, proposed by Germany and France. Then a lot of countries (mainly new ones and not members of the euro area) protested that this would create a two-speed Europe. Bulgaria was officially silent, although this entirely eliminated our chances to join the euro area in the next decades.

Now, again we stand a chance, but the public debate in the country is being led at an insultingly low level, without knowing the facts and with their manipulative mixing. And why the so called right forces in society attack one, in its essence, right pact? And why the participation to the Euro+ Pact is stubbornly being mixed with the rescue mechanism? And what are we gaining if the government would say, OK, you are right, we give up? May be it is no accident that one of Bulgaria's contributions is the saying penny wise and pound foolish.

And I don't even want to imagine that it is possible the debates on the pact for the euro and the ESM to be led under the sign of this year's local and presidential elections in the country. I don't want to imagine this because this would be a lack of responsibility which no one has the right to allow on our behalf.

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