BULGARIA'S 'LOCOMOTIVE' SLACKENS OFF

text and photography by Milen Radev

No confetti will rain in Germany on EU accession day

berlin.jpg

Until recently, Germany was considered the "locomotive" of Bulgaria's accession to the EU. For years, it was seen as the most outspoken advocate of Bulgaria's membership. In 2006, however, an increasing number of warnings have been voiced in political circles in Berlin and especially in Munich, that neither Bulgaria nor the other candidate country, Romania, are ready to become full members of the exclusive European club.

It is true that, in October, Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, ratified the accession treaty with an overwhelming majority and the upper house, the Bundesrat, is expected to finalise the procedure by Christmas. Most MPs from the large parliamentary groups insisted, however, that the government should enforce safeguard clauses in several areas, notably in those of internal and judicial policies, immediately upon the accession of the two countries on 1 January 2007. The rightwing Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) coalition is almost certain that the chancellor, Angela Merkel, will succeed in influencing the European Commission in Brussels and that it will adopt immediate restrictive measures for Bulgaria and Romania before the end of this year.

What has happened in Germany to bring about this radical change, from complete and unconditional support for Bulgaria's European ambitions, to the present cautious and restrictive position? A number of politicians have voiced the opinion that Bulgaria literally caught the last train for the EU. They allege that it was a mistake to fix an accession date before all criteria had been met by the candidate countries, and that this should never happen again.

In fact, politicians' views simply reflect public opinion as it now prevails in Germany. Whereas renowned economists constantly maintain that the first expansion in 2004 was beneficial for German business, most of the population believe that this growth was at their expense. Experts confirm that German companies have increased their competitive edge because they were able to get rid of some of their highly-paid staff, either by relocating their production activities to neighbouring countries, or by hiring cheap labour from the new member states. The liberalisation of the labour market mainly threatens low-skilled workers, especially in the eastern provinces, which still have a poor economic structure. Although, in May, Germany blocked its labour market to Polish and Czech workers for another three years, the fact is that several thousand of them already have a job in the country, using a fictitious self-employed status or by availing themselves of other gaps in the legislation.

Berlin is only a one-and-a-half-hour drive from the Polish border. Every morning, even before daybreak, the trains and motorways to the city are crowded with Poles commuting to their more or less legal workplace. In an area where there are about 50,000 officially registered unemployed construction workers, the huge building sites in the capital resound with foreign voices. To have a Polish cleaner or housekeeper for the four or five euros an hour that no German woman would consider working for has become routine. At the same time, unemployment in the city remains steady at about 17 percent.

This is why the announcement that the government will apply the same 2+3+2 formula to close the German labour market to Bulgaria and Romania for a period of seven years did not pour oil on troubled waters. The gutter press published figures, borrowed mainly from British editions, about hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians already packing their suitcases to set off for Western Europe in search of work. Some rightwing politicians, like Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber, tried to make capital out of this situation by using populist rhetoric.

In addition, the news coming from Bulgaria about the latest contract killing and the inability of the country to get such matters under control does not contribute to the jolliness of the party staged to welcome the new members. We have yet to see whether the new arrival's gifts, such as rose oil, red wine, tomatoes, sheep's cheese, asymmetrical metre folk dances and polyphonic singing, coupled with their new ideas, historical experience and ambition to succeed, will help overcome the newly-erected barriers.

  • COMMENTING RULES

    Commenting on www.vagabond.bg

    Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on www.vagabond.bg to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use www.vagabond.bg for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on www.vagabond.bg please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on www.vagabond.bg.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

THE VELCHOVA ZAVERA HIKE
Еvery April, since 2020, hundreds of young Bulgarians gather in Veliko Tarnovo and embark on a meaningful journey, retracing the steps of a daring rebellion that took place in the town and its surroundings, in 1835.

LES FRANÇAIS EN BULGARIE
Before English took over in Bulgaria, in the 1990s, mastering French was obligatory for the local elite and those who aspired to join it.

BULGARIA'S NEW 'PATRIOTISM'
In the summer of 2023, one of the news items that preoccupied Bulgarians for weeks on end was a... banner.

WHAT WAS THE SEPTEMBER UPRISING?
Raised hands, bodies frozen in a pathos of tragic defiance: Bulgaria, especially its northwest, is littered with monuments to an event that was once glorified but is now mostly forgotten.

WHO WAS RENÉ CHARRON?
Not all people who make a big difference in history, or attempt to make one, are ahead of great governments or armies.

REARVIEW MIRROR OF BULGARIA AND AMERICA
When John Jackson became the first US diplomat in Bulgaria, in 1903, the two nations had known each other for about a century.

200 VAGABONDS
When the first issue of Vagabond hit the newsstands, in September 2006, the world and Bulgaria were so different that today it seems as though they were in another geological era.

LAPSE OF TIME
Sofia, with its numerous parks, is not short of monuments and statues referring to the country's rich history. In the Borisova Garden park for example, busts of freedom fighters, politicians and artists practically line up the alleys.

WHY DOES 'SORRY' SEEM TO BE THE HARDEST WORD?
About 30 Bulgarians of various occupations, political opinion and public standing went to the city of Kavala in northern Greece, in March, to take part in a simple yet moving ceremony to mark the demolition of the Jewish community of northern Greece, which

BULGARIA'S LAST MONARCH
On 3 October 1918, Bulgarians felt anxious. The country had just emerged from three wars it had fought for "national unification" – meaning, in plain language, incorporating Macedonia and Aegean Thrace into the Bulgarian kingdom.

WHO WAS ALEKO KONSTANTINOV?
In Vagabond we sometimes write about people whose activities or inactivity have shaped Bulgaria's past and present. Most of these are politicians or revolutionaries.

RUSSIA BRINGS ON... VANGA
The future does not look bright according to Vanga, the notorious blind clairvoyant who died in 1996 but is still being a darling of tabloids internationally, especially in Russia.