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Monday, 2 December, 2002, 12:02 GMT
Bulgaria dreams of distant union
The Kozloduy nuclear power plant
The Kozloduy plant provides 50% of Bulgaria's electricity

Bulgarians associate their dreams of European citizenship with the salaries of the Germans, the houses of the French and the holidays of the Scandinavians.


People think that when we join Europe, we will be given higher salaries

Political analyst Svetlana Lomeva
These are some of the results of a study by the NGO for European Predictions and Research, which show the country looking forward optimistically to the day, probably in 2007, when it will join the EU family.

"About 85% of replies on what European membership means are related to the high standard of living," says political analyst Svetlana Lomeva.

Bulgarian women
Some families survive on 50 euros per month
"People think that when we join Europe, we will be given higher salaries. European accession is not viewed as personal responsibility."

Before it can join the EU Bulgaria has lots of ecnomic and social problems to solve.

Bulgarian politicians were happy with a recent EU acknowledgement of Bulgaria as a functioning market economy, but ordinary people found it rather surprising.

Roma and unemployment

"We have no economy, so what market economy can we speak of?" said one passer-by on the streets of Sofia.


There are whole sectors of the economy which do not employ a single Gipsy, and whole geographic regions

Roma leader Toma Tomov
"We only have sales of peanuts and almonds and some Turkish goods. We no longer produce anything."

Another said: "We work for coppers and struggle to survive. We work 12 hours for 110 leva (50 euros) per month."

With prices close to, and sometimes even higher than, in the EU, every tenth person ekes out a living on a 50-euro monthly salary.

Bulgarian countryside
Bulgarians don't want foreigner to buy this up
Meanwhile more than one in 10 are unemployed. The situation is particularly bad for Roma, few of whom have jobs and many of whom are unable to send their children to school.

"There are whole sectors of the economy which do not employ a single Gipsy, and whole geographic regions as well. Has anybody asked themselves what we are to do with these people?" asks Roma leader Toma Tomov.

Land lovers

This is why many Bulgarians end up working for the grey economy in Europe. It also helps explain Bulgaria's high crime rate - which brings us to another problem, the judicial system.


We cannot allow this change before a real market in land develops, because everything will be bought up very cheaply

MP Konstantin Penchev
The government says that it cannot beat crime and corruption, with the existing slow and unreformed judicial system. As Justice Minister Anton Stankov admits, attempts to overhaul the system have been making slow progress.

"If we are to respond to EU criticism, we need to change the immunity of the magistrates," he says.

"Is it possible for a magistrate to drive a car when drunk, and do they need immunity for this?"

Railway strikers
Enthusiasm for the EU is tailing off
Reforms in the judiciary would mean amendments to the Constitution - which parliament is not prepared to approve.

In order for Bulgaria to join the EU it also needs to drop the constitutional ban on foreigners buying land in Bulgaria.

One in two Bulgarians are against this, and of the rest, many will only accept it under certain conditions.

"We cannot allow this change before a real market in land develops, because everything will be bought up very cheaply," says MP Konstantin Penchev.

"There must be an exemption period before that happens, and that is normal."

The fear that good agricultural land will be snapped up by foreigners for next to nothing is widespread in Bulgaria.

Power politics

Another sore point is the European Commission's demand for the closure of the oldest reactors of the Kozloduy nuclear power station.


We already have scepticism. From enthusiasm we can move to despair

Professor Andrey Pantev
It's a question that presents Bulgarians with a dilemma - EU membership or cheap electricity.

The power station's supporters are able to call thousands of protesters on to the streets - they want a referendum on the subject.

According to Professor Andrey Pantev, the dawning realisation that EU membership means compromises on sovereignty is fuelling euro-scepticism.

"It's possible to get euro-rage," he says.

"We already have scepticism. From enthusiasm we can move to despair."

Last year saw a drop from 84% to 75% in the projected Yes vote, if a referendum were to be held on EU accession.

But for now Bulgaria, along with Romania, continues to be one of the most enthusiastic candidate countries about EU membership.


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