Turkish membership perspective currently discussed

Katia Hristova
Bulgaria has always declared support for the accession efforts of present day candidate countries. Although Iceland’s membership does not constitute an issue in public debate, attention is focused on the steps undertaken by Turkey and Croatia to speed up their negotiations. Croatia is expected to lead the way to the next enlargement round. Government officials have declared Bulgaria’s support for Croatia’s membership several times. Moreover, public opinion leaders share the view that Croatia’s accession will open up prospects for future concrete steps in the integration of the other Western Balkan countries.[1]
In parallel with this, the Foreign Ministry is starting a review of Bulgaria’s policy towards the Western Balkans, which is one of the priority areas in Bulgarian foreign policy. Bulgaria is also ambitious to take part in the debate about a new approach towards the region, as well as to help the “the internal motors” of reform start in the countries there.
The question of Turkey’s membership in the EU is a delicate and problematic issue for the Bulgarian general public because of historical, geographic, demographic and economic reasons. One political party – Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation (IMRO) – is leading a “Stop Turkey’s Road to the EU” campaign. Party bosses claim they have collected more than 320,000 signatures in support of their initiative.[2] IMRO was the first organisation in Bulgaria to take the opportunity envisaged in the Law on Direct Civic Participation in the state and local government, which empowers citizens to initiate consultations, and fought against Turkey’s membership in the EU. The party failed to gather the 500,000 signatures binding the national assembly to call a referendum. Their petition involved 322,526 people and, since the threshold of 200,000 is overcome, the parliament now has three months to decide upon the initiative.
Experts assess the IMRO initiative as an attempt by IMRO to get out of public silence as it failed to get seats in the parliament after the last general elections held in July 2009. In such a context, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikolay Mladenov has made a few prudent statements that Turkey’s road to joining the EU is “too long” and, as a new member state, Bulgaria is not going to lobby for any of the candidate countries.[3]
The general public in Bulgaria is aware that the issue of Turkey’s accession is not in the current political agenda of the EU. The widespread view points out the fact that putting the cart before the horse and destroying neighbourhood relations with Turkey is a short-sighted policy in this situation.
The Eastern Partnership (EaP) and the Union for the Mediterranean are still assessed by experts as two interlinked projects whose development is very much dependant on the support big EU member states provide for one at the expense of the other.[4] The EaP is considered to be a tool for stabilisation of the EU neighbourhood in the East. An important deficiency of the tool is that it does not provide EU membership perspectives for the east European partners. Nevertheless, Bulgaria should focus on the economic and infrastructure aspects of the EaP as far as EU support for the pipeline and energy projects will provide for the further stabilisation of the region.

[1] Available at: (last access: 30 July 2010).

[2] Available at: (last access: 30 July 2010).

[3] Available at: (last access: 30 July 2010).

[4] Nikolov, Simeon: One Year Eastern Partnership: A Chance or a Risk?, in: Expert electronic journal, Bulgarian Diplomatic Association, available at: (last access: 30 July 2010).