Brussels, 16 November 1999
FIFTH MEETING OF THE ASSOCIATION COUNCIL BETWEEN THE EUROPEAN UNION AND BULGARIA
JOINT PRESS RELEASE
1. The EU-Bulgaria Association Council held its fifth meeting at ministerial level on Tuesday 16 November 1999, chaired by Mr Kimmo SASI, Minister for Foreign Trade and European Affairs of Finland and President-in-Office of the Council of the European Union. Ms Nadejda MIHAILOVA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, headed the Bulgarian Delegation. Commissioner Günther VERHEUGEN represented the European Commission.
Fulfilling its central role in EU-Bulgaria relations, this Association Council meeting allowed for an exchange of views which proved particularly fruitful at this stage of the enlargement process.
2. The Association Council reviewed the state of Bulgaria's preparation to accession in the light of the Accession Partnership, of Bulgaria's National Programme for the Adoption of the Acquis, revised in May 1999, and of the second regular report issued by the European Commission on 13 October last on Bulgaria’s progress towards accession.
The Association Council recognised and appreciated the efforts Bulgaria is making in pursuing its goal of European integration. Important steps have been achieved in addressing most of the Accession Partnership priorities. It acknowledged the fact that some of the necessary changes and reforms that Bulgaria has embarked upon represent significant challenges in economic, social and political terms but repeated however the need for their pursuance.
The Association Council welcomed in particular the abolition of the death penalty, decided by the Bulgarian National Assembly in December last, as well as the adoption, in April, of the framework programme for the integration of the Roma into Bulgarian society. It encouraged Bulgaria to engage in concrete actions and find adequate financial resource to implement this programme.
The Association Council encouraged the Bulgarian authorities to steadily pursue the economic reform process in order to consolidate macroeconomic stabilisation and continue progress in key economic sectors, thereby progressing towards a fully functioning market economy. In this context, the Association Council welcomed the recent decision by the Union to help Bulgaria ease its external financial constraints with a supplementary macro-financial assistance of € 100 million.
The Association Council recalled the importance of the energy sector and, in particular, nuclear safety. It repeated the need to achieve an acceptable solution for an early closure of Units 1-2 and 3-4 of the KOZLODUY nuclear power station.
The Association Council commended the Bulgarian government for the progress achieved in the justice and home affairs area and encouraged it to firmly pursue its efforts in that field, more particularly the fight against corruption.
The Association Council welcomed the steps the Union has taken in preparing for enlargement: the Agenda 2000 reform package, including new financial perspectives, agreed on by the European Council in Berlin and the decision by the Cologne European Council to open a new inter-governmental conference early next year to make the EU’s institutions fit for enlargement.
The Association Council noted the continuing development of bilateral trade and welcomed the abolition by Bulgaria of the import surcharge ahead of schedule in January 1999.
The Association Council noted that both Parties are currently negotiating mutual concessions in agricultural products and processed agricultural products, with a view to increasing bilateral trade liberalisation and improving market access, as well as an agreement on wine and spirits which covers both new mutual concessions and improved protection for denominations.
The Association Council recalled the need to make progress in restructuring the steel sector in view of assuring a future for an economically viable Bulgarian steel industry. In this context, due regard should be paid to the social consequences.
The Association Council underlined the role of Bulgarian participation to Community programmes, an important element of the pre-accession strategy as it enables the Bulgarian administration to experience the practical work in Union bodies. In this context, the Association Council noted Bulgaria’s participation in several Community programmes: Youth for Europe, Kaleidoscope, Ariane, Raphael, Third Programme for SMEs, AIDS Prevention, Combat against Cancer, Save II, Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci, as well as the 5th framework programme for RTD.
The Association Council welcomed the contribution of the PHARE programme and the European Investment Bank to the development of Bulgaria's economy, notably to strengthen the crucial sectors of the national economy. It noted the further increase of the pre-accession aid to Bulgaria and other applicant countries from 2000 and the establishment of two new instruments providing aid respectively for agricultural and rural development (SAPARD) and structural policies (ISPA).
4. The Ministers had a fruitful debate on international issues of common interest. They noted with satisfaction that co-operation in the context of the common foreign and security policy between the EU and the associated countries has continued to develop. They welcomed in particular Bulgaria’s position in the Kosovo conflict, where Bulgaria supported firmly EU actions and positions and aligned itself to EU positions.
The Association Council also emphasised the importance of regional co-operation as a means of fostering stability and good neighbourly relations. It noted with satisfaction Bulgaria's important role in regional co-operation initiatives.
5. In conclusion, the Association Council expressed its confidence in the development of the relations within the Europe Agreement and emphasised the crucial role it is further called on to play in preparing Bulgaria for accession to the Union.