EU Enlargement

Happy New EU!

Bulgaria joins the EU family

, by Margarita Lazarova

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Happy New EU!

The latest enlargement of the European Union is already a fact. On the 1st of January 2007 two Balkan countries, Bulgaria and Romania, became a part of the European family. With the New Year Bulgaria opens a new chapter in its history. This event might be a small step for the EU, but it is a big step for Bulgaria.

This relatively small country in the heart of Balkans had a great but complicated history. Through the centuries, Bulgarians changed from invading warriors to people looking for foreign help. From the struggle for independence in the 19th century, through the fall of communism, the arrival of democracy, and the election of a foreign-educated king as their prime minister, until the accession into the EU, Bulgarians expected somebody from abroad to solve their problems. This practice is now at its final stage; after being recognized as a full member of the European Union, Bulgarians have nothing more to complain about. It is time to take life in their own hands. The most important New Year’s resolution for Bulgaria should be to stand up on its own feet!

EU membership - still work to be done

Unfortunately, this process too will be impossible without the EU’s help. Issues like implementing laws, reforming the judiciary, and combating corruption can be solved only with the guidance of the EU. With its accession to the EU, Bulgaria is becoming even more stable and friendly for foreign investment, which stimulates the economy. On the other hand, Bulgarian businesses will have to implement the high standards required by the EU and become competitive with western companies which will be extremely difficult. The average Bulgarian consumer will have to survive on a Balkan salary in a market based on European prices.

The disputed nuclear power plant in Kozloduy

An additional problem, which makes Bulgarians sceptic towards the EU and its intentions, is the closing down of the biggest and one of the most important nuclear reactors in the Balkans, Kozloduy. While some observers consider this decision right due to safety concerns, for the local people and some foreign specialists, this facility is not much different than those that exist across Europe. These critics maintain that the closure of this reactor will force Bulgaria to buy energy from abroad and to raise the price of electricity dramatically in the Balkans. But the demise of Kozloduy could also be a blessing in disguise, pushing people towards more environmentally friendly sources of energy, like solar or wind power, of which Bulgaria has plenty.

Bulgaria brings added value

Thanks to its geographical position, Bulgaria is not only strategically, but also culturally significant to the EU. Being on the crossroads between the Western and Central Eastern civilizational circles makes Bulgaria an extraordinary mixture of cultures. On this piece of land one can meet a variety of ethnic groups, religions, and even cuisines. Bulgaria is a country that makes a big effort for the peaceful co-existence of different minorities and their inclusion to social life.

The rights and privileges that the Turkish and Roma minorities enjoy in Bulgaria could be a good example of political tolerance for other countries in the region.

This cultural diversity is one of those qualities that make Bulgaria fascinating and valuable for keeping the peace in the Balkans.

Bulgaria has a big potential to become a prospering country and a stabilizing factor in the region. The future of this transformation depends entirely on the people of Bulgaria. They have to become more confident of their own talents and abilities. They should think of themselves as true Europeans and stop labelling the inclusion into the European Union as “entering Europe”.

In my opinion, one of the responsibilities of organizations such as JEF-BG is to persuade public opinion in Bulgaria, especially the youth, that Bulgaria always belonged to Europe and its membership was a logical and well-deserved result of a long journey.

Conclusion

Despite all the difficulties and changes that Bulgaria will have to face with the assistance of the EU, it will not be the only beneficiary in this unification. Doubts and obstacles will give way to a Europe that can overcome future disagreements. Bulgaria has a lot more to contribute to this process. The challenge starting with this New Year should be to channel Bulgaria’s energy and determination toward forming a better-unified and federal Europe.

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