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Will Bulgarians and Romanians be toasting their ten years in the EU?


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Will Bulgarians and Romanians be toasting their ten years in the EU?

A decade on from joining the European Union, what impact has membership had on Bulgaria and Romania?

Are Romanians and Bulgarians better off?

GDP has increased in both countries over the last decade.

Bulgaria’s GDP per capita was 41 percent of the EU average when it joined in 2007, rising to 47 percent in 2015, the latest year for which data is available.

Romania’s, meanwhile, stood at 57 percent in 2015, up from 43 percent in 2007, according to data from Eurostat.

There is also a smaller proportion of people in both countries at risk of poverty or social exclusion.

In Bulgaria, around 60 percent fell into this category in 2007, falling to 41.3 percent in 2015.

In Romania the figure fell from 47 percent a decade ago, to 37.4 percent in 2015.

Yet despite these positive indicators, people in Romania are not all feeling this in their pockets, Romanian political analyst Radu Magdin told Euronews.

“Yes you can say we registered economic growth, yes you can say after the economic crisis Romania is the economic tiger of Europe,” he said. “But there is some frustration – which is not attributable to Europe – in the sense that the economic growth is not being reflected in people’s pockets.

“The structure of the economy is mostly based on exports. The profits being made by multinational companies are reflected in this growth but it’s very difficult to translate this growth into people’s pockets because we’re not talking redistribution.”

What about all the Bulgarians and Romanians working abroad?

Sofia news agency Novinite reported in 2015 the number of Bulgarians working abroad, 2.5 million, was bigger than the country’s domestic workforce of 2.2 million.

Romania, meanwhile, had the fastest growing diaspora in the world between 2000 and 2015, for a country not at war or conflict, according to a UN report.

“There’s been a huge brain drain,” said Magdin. “The truth is very few have returned after years abroad.”

Some, however, have come back for short periods, he added, such as workers in Brussels who helped out prime minister Dacian Cioloș on specific projects.

“I would say, particularly in the case of Bucharest, you saw more people coming back and even in other parts of the country,” he said. “For example I had my holidays in northern Romania and there was a whole village with people who went abroad to work en masse, whole families, in construction in the UK and all of them came home for Christmas and they all started building houses back home. The fact they are doing that shows they view their futures in Romania.”

Both countries have also benefited from money sent home, according to Eurostat figures.

Bulgaria received 456 million euros in personal money transfers in 2015, up from 268.9 million euros in 2010.

Romania netted 503.7 million euros in 2015, up from 375.9 million euros three years earlier.

What about all the money from Brussels?

From the 368 million euro contribution towards extending a Sofia metro link, to the 355 million euros set aside to improve water and wastewater infrastructure in Romania, even the most ardent Eurosceptic would have trouble arguing Brussels is not investing in either country.

Romania has been allocated 23 billion euros for the 2014-2020 funding period, compared with 7.6 billion euros for Bulgaria.

But Magdin said both countries had been awarded billions in the previous funding period, up to 2013, and had made poor use of the money.

“People expected in 2007 that this money would simply pour into the country and then be redistributed,” he said. “We mismanaged the use of EU funds. It’s to do with ideas, bureaucracy, red tape, but also corruption.

“I think from the beginning there was a lack of vision about what to do with this money. We came under-prepared into the EU.”

Magdin added one of the key advantages of EU membership for Romania was the pressure from Brussels to tackle corruption, which has had positive results, in contrast to Bulgaria.

Are Romanians and Bulgarians happier?

Both Bulgarians and Romanians are happier with their lives than they were around a decade ago, according to a Eurobarometer survey.

Just 36 percent of Bulgarians questioned in 2007 said they were satisfied with the lives they led, compared with 53 percent in Romania.

By autumn 2016, 51 percent of Bulgarians said they were satisfied with their lives, against 58 percent for Romanians.

“I think we have a mentality to complain, we like to believe our countries are the worst in the universe, but it’s not true,” said Magdin. “People are starting to live better, are more happy with their countries, but our typical habit of criticising everything is still present. We are living better, mostly in the bigger cities, where investment is more present.”

What about Romania and Bulgaria’s future in the EU?

Magdin says up until now both Romania and Bulgaria have acted like candidates for EU membership rather than actual members when they have been on the Brussels stage, but both are likely to push for more presence in the medium term.

That’s because both countries are set to hold the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU in the next two years.

In addition, says Magdin, Romania may ask Brussels for flexibility over the size of its deficit as the new government looks to implement its election manifesto.

“Sometimes you have the impression that Romania and Bulgaria have positioned themselves as the nice kids on the block, perhaps too nice, perhaps not always looking out for their own interests.

“I think that’s going to change, not tough talk from Sofia or Bucharest but you’re going to see these two countries saying ‘Guys, we don’t cause you any problems, we’re Europhiles, we’re both going to have EU presidencies in two years from now, give us a break, give us some space, help us present the EU project as successful’.”