Auteur: | By Mark Beunderman
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - A key report on Bulgaria's EU membership date due out next week is already causing domestic ructions, with the opposition criticising the government for failing to fight crime and corruption ahead of presidential elections.
The Bulgarian presidential elections will take place on 22 October, just a few weeks after a 26 September European Commission report which will recommend the terms and conditions of the country's EU accession scheduled for next January.
But already before the release of Brussels' report, Bulgaria's centre-right opposition has started criticising the socialist-led government for not doing enough to meet EU demands to tackle crime and corruption.
Yuliana Nikolova, centre-right candidate for vice-president, told reporters on Tuesday (19 September) that the current socialist-led government, which took office in July last year, is responsible for the bad marks Bulgaria has lately been getting from Brussels.
"After one year, Bulgaria is lagging behind Romania_The speed of the reforms is slowing down," she said.
"It's obvious for us that the president's role in this negative assessment of the EU is quite important," she added referring to current socialist president Georgi Parvanov.
"There's not enough political will to fight against corruption and organised crime [or for] establishing the rule of law."
To do list
The remarks highlight the likelihood of political turmoil over the commission report next week, which will appear in the middle of the Bulgarian election campaign - which officially kicks off today (19 September).
In the report, Bulgaria could get tougher terms of membership than fellow EU hopeful Romania, with Sofia seen as lagging behind Bucharest in efforts to tackle crime and corruption.
Brussels insiders say that in the report Sofia is likely to get clear assurances on its accession date of 1 January 2007 - but coupled with a fresh "to do" list which it should finalise before the end of this year.
Depending on Sofia's progress in clamping down on sleaze and improving the functioning of the judiciary, Brussels could then on the eve of accession still decide to impose tough so-called safeguard measures.
Bulgaria's accession treaty foresees the possibility for the commission of triggering these safeguard clauses - such as the non-recognition of Bulgarian court verdicts or a suspension of EU funds - for up until three years after accession.
High on the list of what the commission wants is an amendment to the Bulgarian constitution aligning the country's penal procedure code to EU standards.
An earlier amendment designed by Sofia was deemed ambiguous by Brussels and subsequently repealed.
Nedelcho Beronov, the centre-right's presidential candidate and currently the president of Bulgarian constitutional court, said it would be impossible to finalise the constitutional amendment before the commission report next week, but "it could be done before the end of the year provided that work is intensive enough."