Европейската криза, видяна от България /Димитър Бечев/

Публикувам една интересна и актуална статия на Димитър Бечев, публикувана на сайта на Съвета на Европа

Неговата теза, че България, на която се гледа /заедно с Румъния / като на "почти" аутсайдер в ЕС, не бива да се поддава на евроскептицизма и популизма, повдига един сериозен въпрос. Става дума за реалната политическа и институционална тежест на нашата страна в общността, на фона на задълбочаващата се криза в развитите страни на континента, и на икономическата динамика в съседни страни-напр. Турция.Статията впечатлява и със своя реализъм и неутралност/дистанцираност на анализа от повърхностните политически спорове, които се водят напоследък унас по повод прибързаното решение за присъединяване на България към Пакт "Евро плюс".

Europe's crisis as seen from Bulgaria


How does a crisis look when you watch it from a country which has lived in crisis conditions for more than two decades? Well, troubling but at the same time hardly startling.
Fragmented Europe is not a novel concept to Bulgarians. Although it has formally been a member state since 2007, Bulgaria is still a near-outsider in the EU. That is the way that the country is treated, with its full acquiescence, by the “grown-ups”. Bulgaria’s national currency, the lev, has been pegged to the euro since the very start of the common currency, but the prospects of the country joining the Eurozone are virtually zero. Despite Sofia’s prudent fiscal policy (public debt 14.6% of GDP, budget deficit projected at 2.5% in 2011, Moody’s just upgraded the country to BBB) the doors to ERM2, euro’s antechamber, are firmly locked these days. In other words, Bulgarian businesses and households do not reap the benefits – e.g. lower interest rates – of their currency being tied to the euro, but pay many of the costs of not having an independent monetary policy.
Another case in point is Schengen. Bulgaria, like neighbouring Romania, is not part of the agreement and is not likely to accede, at least until the current members agree on an overhaul of existing rules. What is more, Schengen is now linked not solely to the fulfillment of technical criteria like security at borders, as was the case for the Central Europeans and the Balts, but also to judicial reform and efforts in fighting organised crime and high-level corruption.
Which essentially means that Bulgaria (like Romania) is still dealt with as a pre-accession case. Under the so-called “Cooperation and Verification Mechanism” (a fine example of Eurospeak this is!), the European Commission publishes annual reviews on Sofia and Bucharest’s performance, not unlike the monitoring reports issued on Turkey and the other enlargement countries in the Western Balkans.
Finally, a number of “old” member states still keep temporary hurdles to their labour markets in place, preventing Bulgarian and Romanian workers from obtaining employment without proper authorisation. Contrast that with non-members Switzerland or Norway, who are in Schengen and whose nationals can freely take up jobs across the Union. And if you run a poll in a random western EU country, it is highly likely that you’ll hear from your respondents that they would rather have the Swiss and Norwegians in and Bulgarians and Romanians out.
Many think that a Europe of multiple speeds and horizons is the future that is being created by the current crisis, which is dividing the EU into a 17-strong Eurozone underpinned by “economic government”, to quote Nicolas Sarkozy, and semi-detached “others” (notably the perfidious Albion). But the truth of the matter is that the future has been with us for some time now. The EU is fundamentally about centres and peripheries – this is a fact of life rooted in socio-economic realities. Now, thanks to Eastern enlargement, that fact has found its institutional expression too. Bulgarian pundits and, intuitively, the public at large won’t be surprised to see more differentiation, concentric circles and multiple speeds in the years to come.
The question is whether they should be gloomy about it or cheer. Being relegated to the outer circles is surely no occasion to celebrate. Differentiation erodes the EU’s already declining capacity to transform its weaker, peripheral members. This is a worrying trend. After all Greece was a, if not the positive role model for Bulgaria. A next-door neighbour, with shared history and a growing density of cross-border economic ties and human links, Greece showed how a poor, fledgling democracy with a troubled past could make it into the European mainstream. But a real Greek transformation increasingly looks like mission impossible, whether because of the western Europeans’ unwillingness to foot the bill or the Greece’s resistance to change. History and culture are surely not destiny but there are institutional legacies which are resilient and impervious to pressure from far-off bureaucracies in Brussels or elsewhere. In the not-so-distant past, EU peripheries paid lip service to change and faked convergence. These days we are not worrying whether semi-outsiders are taking their healthy dose of European medicine, but whether the doctor issuing the prescription is in business at all.
Aware of the costs of growing marginalisation, the reaction of PM Boyko Borissov’s government was to instinctively support the Franco-German bid to bolster economic governance through largely toothless Euro Plus Pact. Unlike the Czech Republic and Hungary, in late March Bulgaria joined the deal pledging to co-ordinate economic policies in the interest of stable public finances. But as the decision was taken on the spur of the moment, personally by the prime minister and with no public consultation, it triggered a backlash in the media. Economic experts saw the danger of scrapping the 10% flat tax under Brussels’ diktat and, even worse, contributing disproportionally to the planned European Stability Mechanism (ESM) to bail out much richer countries like … well, next-door neighbour Greece, whose citizens’ lifestyles Bulgarians have coveted for a long time.
A vocal minority of pundits and opposition politicians started arguing that Bulgaria is better off remaining at arm’s length from the new integration initiative. Familiar phrases such as “unaccountable Brussels bureaucrats” (as if the government in Bulgaria is the paragon of accountability) invaded the headlines. There were calls for Bulgaria to act as a “mature member state” and play tough in EU institutions. European integration, astonishingly, transformed overnight from a unique opportunity for the country’s economic development into something of a threat. This line pandered to historical complexes positing Bulgaria as the perennial victim of great power politics.
It is not clear whether the poorest member state will prove to be fertile ground for EU-bashing in the longer term. If anything, homegrown populists have a habit of appealing to Brussels when they rally against corruption in this or that government. Yet Eurosceptic arguments will increasingly be heard, no matter that Bulgaria is still a long way from joining the Eurozone and therefore chipping into the ESM (Just a few days ago, finance minister Simeon Djankov declared that Bulgaria is putting on hold, until brighter days, its long-standing bid to join the euro – which was not an immediate prospect anyhow).
But one thing is for sure. Bulgaria has a strong interest in Europe overcoming its present difficulties. This is not an abstract statement. Nearly 30 percent of the local banking sector is owned by Greek banks. Contagion remains a threat, even if Sofia is not reliant on private investors to bankroll its budget deficit at favourable rates. Bulgaria’s government and the business community will go on watching the EU crisis with consternation, and continue to talk up the country as an island of fiscal stability. Meanwhile society, true to its navel-gazing habits, will view the pan-European storm as far removed from the daily crises it has been dealing with for many long years.