Today Bulgaria marks the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the negotiations for membership of the European Union.
The official opening of the negotiation process was on 15 February 2000, when the first meeting of the Inter-governmental Accession Conference took place in Brussels. In fact, on this day, the European Union formally opened the membership procedure for six countries - in addition to Bulgaria and neighbouring Romania, these were Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia and Malta. The decision to start these negotiations was taken at an EU summit in Helsinki on 10-11 December 1999.
On the tenth anniversary of this symbolic day, Bulgaria remembers the key actors who attended this Brussels conference - former Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama (his country was then at the head of the rotating Presidency of the EU), former EU Enlargement Commissioner, Guenter Verheugen, as well as former Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nadejda Mihaylova - today an MEP for the European People’s Party. As Council chair, Mr. Gama opened the Inter-governmental Conference by presenting the common EU position, then Commissioner Verheugen made a welcome address and Minister Mihaylova presented the Bulgarian position on the negotiations. This event marked the beginning of an intensive negotiation process, which continued for almost three and a half years.
Less than a month before the Brussels conference, on 20 January 2000, the Government in Sofia nominated for the fist time a key negotiator and a negotiating team, as well as working groups in charge of the different chapters. The first Bulgarian key negotiator with the EU was Mr. Alexander Bojkov (December 1999 - June 2000), followed by Vladimir Kissiov (June 2000 - July 2001).
At the end of this same year, on 20 January 2000, the EU Justice and Home Affairs Ministers Council took the historic decision of taking Bulgaria off the negative visa Schengen list.
On 15 June 2004 Bulgaria concluded the EU accession negotiations by closing all of the 31 chapters - six months ahead of schedule.
On this historic day, during the evening news on the Bulgarian Public TV, the former EU Commission President Romano Prodi, was interviewed. He commented on the Union’s decision to start the enlargement negotiations with the six candidate-countries: “My message to the Bulgarian citizens is that these negotiations mark the beginning of a new, very positive era in the European Union’s development. Our objective is to help Bulgaria and the other countries in the region to return in the European family. I can see Bulgaria’s strong desire to become an EU member-state. This is an important sign for all of the South-Eastern European region - so that it could be fully reconstructed and not be in isolation anymore” .
In a short interview for Europe Gateway on the occasion of this anniversary, one of Bulgaria’s first key negotiators, Mr. Vladimir Kissiov, comments that it is important for today’s diplomats and experts, responsible for Bulgaria’s relations with the EU, to work in the same spirit of commitment and enthusiasm as “the pioneers, as we did 10 years ago” .
“It’s true, that today Bulgaria is facing serious problems, but, as a Member State, these problems can be solved more easily” , Kissiov added. In his words, “Bulgaria is moving in the right direction and it is irreversible” .
To find out more:
European Commission, Enlargement Directorate