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Wednesday, 9 October, 2002, 20:13 GMT 21:13 UK
Bulgaria keeps eyes on EU prize
Supporter kisses King Simeon II's hand
The former king's support has now waned

Bulgaria has been left out in the cold in the European Commission's landmark announcement of the 10 countries who will join the European Union in its biggest ever expansion in 2004.

But the country's Prime Minister, and former King, Simeon Saxe-Coburg, is not disappointed.


By having a date... then there's a deadline and we know that all our tough measures and sacrifices will have been worth it

Simeon Saxe-Coburg
"2004 for us would have been really strictly wishful thinking," he told BBC News Online.

Instead, along with Romania which also failed to make the grade this time round, Bulgaria has set its heart on joining by 2007.

"If we keep on the pace of working as hard and delivering as much as we have been doing in the past year I am very much confident that this will be accomplished," said Mr Saxe-Coburg.

Falling support

Bulgaria still has major problems with almost all the criteria for membership.

Of the 30 completed chapters required for EU membership, Bulgaria has managed to close just 22 - the lowest of all the candidate countries, bar Romania.

May Day protest in Sofia
Bulgarians have been angered by lack of progress
Corruption, a weak judiciary and discrimination against the Roma minority have all given Brussels cause for concern.

Mr Saxe-Coburg's hard work to pick up the pace of the membership process is not proving popular.

The former King Simeon II returned from exile to public jubilation and won half the seats in parliament at last year's elections, though his party was only a few months' old.

But now his popularity has dropped to 10% and there is discontent that his lavish promises have not marked any change on the ground.

But he insists this is part of the normal curve of taking over government and says the effects of his policies are being felt.


There's a lot of time until the year 2007 to negotiate to progress and to reach understanding

Simeon Saxe-Coburg
"A lot of tough measures have already been implemented but parallel to this there's a lot of new possibilities which are opening.

"With transparency and clean administration there's more investment. There's hundreds of new little companies, sometimes of three or five people, that start every week now," he said.

Looking ahead

Fixing their eyes on the prize of a 2007 accession will, he believes, help Bulgarians through the difficult times and ensure their continued enthusiasm - currently among the highest of all candidate countries - for the EU.

"By having a date... then there's a deadline and we know that all our tough measures and sacrifices will have been worth it."

But while the candidate countries have always made dates a focus of their preparations, Brussels has been less willing to commit itself to timetables.

In Wednesday's announcement, the Commission noted, but didn't approve, Bulgaria's aspirations to 2007 membership.

Nonetheless, Mr Saxe-Coburg insists his small country's determination will have its way.

"We believe the process of merits and accomplishments will prevail... there's a lot of time until the year 2007 to negotiate to progress and to reach understanding."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Bulgarian Prime Minister speaks to BBC News Online
"2004 for us would have been wishful thinking"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
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Your guide to the European Union: Features, backgrounders and reference guides
Making sense of the EU

See also:

09 Oct 02 | Europe
09 Oct 02 | Europe
09 Oct 02 | Europe
09 Oct 02 | Europe
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