- The Association Council -
Luxembourg, 10 October 2000
Sixth meeting of the Association Council
between the European Union and Bulgaria
(Luxembourg, 10 October 2000)
JOINT PRESS RELEASE
1. The EU-Bulgaria Association Council held its sixth meeting on Tuesday 10 October 2000. Mr Vladimir KISSIOV, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, was in the chair. Mr Pierre MOSCOVICI, Minister for European Affairs of France and President-in-Office of the Council of the European Union, headed the European Union delegation. Mrs Anna LINDH, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden and Mr Günter VERHEUGEN, Commissioner responsible for Enlargement, were also part of the European Union delegation (Troïka format).
This Association Council was the first after the Helsinki European Council decision to open accession negotiations with Bulgaria and the opening of those on 15 February 2000. Therefore, it provided a timely opportunity to review Bulgaria's progress in the framework of the pre-accession strategy and to consider priorities for further work within the framework of the Europe Agreement.
2. The Association Council reviewed the state of Bulgaria's preparation for accession in the light of the second Regular Report, issued by the European Commission in October 1999, the Accession Partnership, updated in December 1999, and the Bulgarian National Programme for Adoption of the Acquis revised in April 2000.
The Association Council noted that Bulgaria meets the Copenhagen political criteria. It underlined, however, the need to continue and intensify actions under the Framework Programme of the Bulgarian Government for the full integration of the Roma population into the Bulgarian society.
The Association Council welcomed the macro-economic achievements and the substantial efforts made in pursuing the medium term reform programme. Parallel to the legislative framework now being put into place, reforms should be actively implemented.
Recalling the importance of high standards of nuclear safety in Central and Eastern Europe, the Association Council welcomed the progress made since the last Association Council, in particular Bulgaria's commitments regarding the closure and decommissioning of units 1-4 of Kozloduy nuclear power plant. The Association Council welcomed the conclusion of the Euratom loan and noted the progress made in preparing for the implementation of the grant assistance. It encouraged Bulgaria to pursue the progress made in strengthening the nuclear safety authority.
The Association Council also invited Bulgaria to continue and intensify efforts in reforming its public administration and judiciary, paying due attention to the fight against corruption and the adequacy of resources. It stressed the fact that transposition, application and enforcement of the acquis are all equally important elements of the preparation for accession.
The Association Council also welcomed the steps the Union has taken in preparing for enlargement, in particular the opening of a new inter-governmental conference to make the EU institutions fit for enlargement.
3. The Association Council noted that the implementation of the Europe Agreement runs smoothly and that open issues have been examined in detail by the Association Committee, as well as in day-to-day collaboration between ministerial meetings, so as to enable the Association Council to appraise the situation politically. Position papers reviewing developments to date and considering future priorities were exchanged.
The Association Council welcomed the entry into force as of 1st July 2000, by means of reciprocal autonomous measures, of the result of the negotiations for further bilateral agricultural trade concessions. It encouraged both parties to conclude quickly the negotiations in view of a global wine and spirits agreement covering both tariffs and protection of denominations issues, particularly since the current agreement on wine trade concessions will expire at the end of this year.
The Association Council underlined the importance of restructuring the steel sector, thus assuring a future for an economically viable Bulgarian steel industry. It also underlined that the efficiency of the State aid control system and legal framework should be improved, in line with the "acquis".
The Association Council welcomed the signature of the Road Transit Agreement in July 2000. This will further facilitate road transport services between Bulgaria and the Union.
The Association Council recalled its recent decision concerning the participation of Bulgaria in the Socrates II and Leonardo da Vinci II Programmes. The procedures for the adoption of two other decisions, allowing the participation in the Youth Programme and in the MEDIA II Programme, respectively, are well under way.
The Association Council welcomed the contribution of the PHARE programme and the European Investment Bank to the development of Bulgaria, notably to strengthen the crucial sectors of the national economy. It noted the substantial increase of the pre-accession aid to Bulgaria and other applicant countries from 2000 and the establishment of two additional instruments providing aid respectively for agricultural and rural development (SAPARD) and structural policies (ISPA).
4. The Association Council noted the importance Bulgaria attaches to granting visa free regime for Bulgarian nationals as early as possible.
5. The Association Council exchanged views on some international issues of common interest. It emphasised the importance of regional co-operation as a means of fostering stability and good neighbourly relations and noted with satisfaction the Bulgarian contribution in regional co-operation initiatives, as well as its initiatives in bi- and tri-lateral co-operation in the region, including in particular the progress in relations with Romania which has led to the agreement on the location for the building of a second bridge across the Danube.
6. In conclusion, the Association Council expressed confidence in the development of the relations within the Europe Agreement and emphasised the crucial role it is further called on to play until Bulgaria's accession to the European Union.