The EU is growing less tolerant of members which are dragging their feet and not putting reforms through. This is the message conveyed by the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz in an interview for Stern magazine. He says that there is need of institutions that will resolve problems in international trade, climate, immigration, tax fraud and monetary policy.
According to economist and diplomat Ilian Vassilev, Martin Schulz’s words raise a question that is long overdue: the question “of strategic vision – what the EU should be all about, as obviously when there is a difference in economic and political integration levels, the Union cannot continue in the same format. The Greek crisis was no more than a catalyst of these processes”, he comments.
Like Greece, Bulgaria has been postponing its commitment to reforms, the most pressing of them being the judicial reform. Whereas Greece’s creditors lost faith in the government’s will and intention of servicing the country’s debt, in Bulgaria people have lost faith in the political elite. Can we put our trust in the administration or will it take outside pressure to put the judicial reform through? Vassilev is categorical:
“The judicial system will be reformed, no one is offering any alternative. What is seen as confrontation – because no open opposition would get any approval – is an attempt by people who do not see their own best interests in a change in the status quo, to coordinate their positions and negotiate special treatment or damage control.”
One of the spheres in which corruption is particularly rife is work on European programmes. Bulgaria has had a number of sanctions imposed – suspension of funding, fines. Yet, besides discipline what is frequently lacking is strategy, as if the only aim is to absorb the money, so the effect on the economy is not good. Nonetheless, Ilian Vassilev says that European funding is a way to improve the investment climate:
“The European funds are small, amounting to 6-7 percent of the GDP. But especially when they are invested in the infrastructure, they help us improve the investment climate and environment in Bulgaria, because this is a sphere that is monitored by Europe.
It is naïve to think that there can be any special treatment of European funding and that we could be disciplined and meet the necessary standards here, while at the same time we apply different methods in budget and municipal financing.
As a matter of fact, the progress Bulgaria has made in 25 years is not bad at all. The GDP has gone up several fold but this development has not resulted in prosperity.”
After the crisis in Greece, won’t Europe raise its eurozone membership requirements and criteria?
“The EU and the eurozone will not be the same after the Greek crisis”, Vassilev comments. “Now the issue is not whether someone will give us the green light to enter it or not. The question is that there is no sense in entering a eurozone that has no clear prospect based on more rigid rules and frameworks.
We must ask ourselves: if we do enter the eurozone, why are we doing it? What are the risks and the benefits? And what other economic policies can we put in place to improve the state of the economy? The eurozone cannot be an end in itself, it is a means.”