Introduction

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I regret that I cannot be with you in Sofia today. However I am pleased that, thanks to modern means of communication, I am able to speak to you at this time. It marks the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the tenth anniversary of the end of the Communist regime in Bulgaria, and a significant step forward towards Bulgaria's reintegration into a free and democratic Europe.

Preparing for membership of the European Union is an issue for debate amongst all parts of society. I welcome therefore the initiative taken by the European Institute, with the support of the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry and the Centre for European Studies in Bonn, in organizing this event, the first of its kind in Bulgaria.

 

The Enlargement Process

Let me turn to some recent developments in the enlargement of the European Union. As you know, on 13 October the European Commission proposed to open negotiations with all candidate countries which met the Copenhagen political criteria and had proved ready to take the necessary measures to comply with the economic criteria.

This marks a significant change from previous years. It recognizes the widely felt need for new momentum in the enlargement process to take account of the dramatic changes in the European political landscape. This is mainly as a consequence of the crises in the Balkan region, which have emphasized the essential contribution European integration can make to peace and prosperity in Europe.

During these crises, Bulgaria reflected clearly its commitment to integration. Not only has Bulgaria consistently supported EU positions. It has strengthened its commitment to stability in this region through its relations with countries in the region.

The normalization of relations with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia earlier this year is just one example of that, and a further demonstration of Bulgaria's ongoing contribution to regional stability. This is a policy that can only be of benefit to Bulgaria, its neighbors, and Europe as a whole. It is a policy where Bulgaria can bring its achievements as a model for other countries in the region.

In its proposal to open negotiations, the Commission considered it essential that the European Union send a strong signal, to all countries in the region, of its determination to assume its responsibilities in the building of a peaceful and prosperous Europe.

 

The Commission's position on Bulgaria

For the second year in succession, Bulgaria's significant progress in reform is recognized in the Commission's report.

On the political criteria, democracy is firmly established and further progress has been made. The abolition of the death penalty and the establishment of a Framework Programme on the Roma are important steps.

Bulgaria has made sustained progress in approximation with EU legislation, which is the foundation for the internal market. For instance progress was made in securing intellectual property rights and bringing audiovisual legislation into line with that of the EU. In justice and home affairs, Bulgaria has also continued to make good progress in a majority of sectors this year.

 

The Economy

As far as the economy is concerned, there also, we recognize and welcome the substantial progress Bulgaria has made towards the establishment of a functioning market economy, as defined in the Copenhagen criteria. Let me explain to you what this means.

According to the definition set in the Copenhagen criteria, "the existence of a functioning market economy requires that prices, as well as trade, are liberalized and that an enforceable legal system, [...] is in place." The Commission's report recognizes that Bulgaria has made considerable progress in this regard. It achieved a high degree of price liberalization and it further liberalized its trade regime. But to meet the Copenhagen criteria fully, reform efforts need to be sustained: privatization must be completed, financial discipline in the enterprise sector (e.g. accounting standards, tax collection) must be enforced, and to underline one aspect of particular importance, a legal environment, which is stable and transparent for business, must be further developed. These measures will not only be necessary for enlargement. More importantly, they will be beneficial to the Bulgarian economy, and they will help to increase Bulgaria's attractiveness to domestic and foreign investors.

So why has the Commission proposed an economic condition for the opening of negotiations? Let me emphasize that the fulfillment of this condition does not involve new or additional criteria. It is essentially a verification of measures already taken or planned in the immediate future. We consider that the relatively recent achievement of economic stabilization in Bulgaria justifies this approach.

We have identified a number of priority areas that will be assessed by the Commission in seeking confirmation of the progress made by Bulgaria. These priority areas correspond to the concerns raised in the 1999 Regular Report.

The Commission will also follow the implementation of the programmes agreed between Bulgaria and international financial institutions. What we expect to see here is a sustained demonstration of Bulgaria's determination to continue the reform process. We will follow this closely as part of our normal co-operation with the Bulgarian Authorities and the IFIs.

In order to assess the economic condition for the opening of negotiations, the Commission will organize a fact-finding mission to establish the evolution of the economic situation and to seek the required confirmation of significant progress in economic reform. Our

intention is to submit a report to the Council before the end of March 2000.

Given the steps Bulgaria has already taken on reform, I am confident that the Commission's assessment can be positive.

 

Nuclear safety

Let me turn now to the other condition proposed by the Commission. In view of the paramount importance of nuclear safety, the Commission decided that opening of negotiations with Bulgaria should be conditional on a decision by the Bulgarian authorities before the end of 1999 on acceptable closure dates for units 1-4 in the Kozioduy nuclear power plant.

I know that this issue is at the forefront of discussions in Bulgaria and has provoked strong reactions. Let me elaborate on this point.

Nuclear safety is a very sensitive issue for the European Union and for European public opinion. The Commission is not against the nuclear option. This is a matter for each member state, and for each candidate country to decide. You know we are prepared to finance the modernization of units 5 and 6 of the Kozioduy plant.

We are solely concerned about the safety of the older Soviet-designed reactors. And we know that some of these, including Kozioduy units 1-4, cannot be brought up to western safety standards at a reasonable cost. Bulgaria has admitted this when it signed an international agreement by which it committed itself to early closure of the four reactors, indeed at dates, which have largely been surpassed.

I cannot imagine that our Member States will be able to agree on the opening of negotiations with Bulgaria unless there is agreement on the early closure of these reactors. This would also be unfair with respect to other concerned candidate countries, namely Lithuania and Slovakia, which have taken courageous decisions on early closures. Let me reassure you, on this occasion, that the Commission position on Kozioduy ensures equal treatment with the other concerned candidate countries. I am surprised to read sometimes in your press that Bulgaria feels it is being discriminated against. This is not the case and will not be the case.

Let me add one more point on this issue. It is our firm belief that early closure of the Kozioduy units 1-4 will not create any problems in the electricity supply of the country, not even to Bulgaria's commitments for electricity exports. Bulgaria is on the track of economic reform and modernization. An integral part of the reform process is an increase in the country's energy efficiency, which is at present at very low levels. Early closure of the four reactors will of course entail a cost. We have repeatedly declared that the Commission is ready to assist Bulgaria in meeting such costs. Such assistance could include substantial Phare funds, over and above Bulgaria's national allocation, as well as a Euratom loan. Other international donors could also contribute.

 

Where next with negotiations?

I would like to say a few words about the way accession negotiations will be conducted. Once negotiations are opened, Bulgaria will negotiate on the same basis as other candidates. The Commission considers that a limited number of chapters can be opened for all candidates entering negotiations in 2000. The number of chapters will vary according to the state of preparation of each individual candidate.

In order to help Bulgaria accelerate its preparations for accession and, if possible, to accelerate the opening of negotiating chapters, the Commission will examine with Bulgaria how better to focus on key problem areas. This will also help to target the available technical and financial assistance on these areas.

This new approach will also create a strong link between the negotiations and the preparatory process. Provisional closure of chapters will be decided depending on the degree to which candidates have fulfilled the commitments they made to prepare for membership. This will ensure that each country will be able to proceed on its own merit.

Whilst there is still work to be done to prepare almost every sector for EU membership, there is also support available for this. From 2000, the EU grants available will double. Phare support will be around 100 mln. In addition, there will be two new financial instruments, (ISPA and SAPARD) dealing with transport and environment, agriculture, and rural development, bringing total grant funding to around 700 Mln for the next three years (2000 to 2002).

Let me end by confirming my strong wish to see accession negotiations with Bulgaria start in the spring of 2000. The Commission is ready to work, together with the Bulgarian authorities, to prepare the ground for this. We all share the same objective: to pave the way towards Bulgaria's successful integration into the European Union.