Zinaida Zlatanova, Head of the EC Representation in Bulgaria, in an interview for Radio Focus’ broadcast Good Morning, Bulgaria.
Host: Ms Zlatanova, what is the idea of today’s European Semester 2012: EC’s Recommendations to Bulgaria forum, and what is the aim of this discussion?
Zinaida Zlatanova: Such forums are organised in all EU member states. Their aim is to place the respective recommendations for each member state on the table for a broad discussion. The point of discussion is not only the recommendations made by the EC, but also the necessary steps, which governments and people, needed for the implementation of these recommendations. This is the aim of today’s round table, which we organise with the help of our colleagues from the EC Secretariat-General. Everyone is invited, including the media, in order to have a transparent presentation of the opinion of the EC. I would also like to mention that the European Council stars today, and should end tomorrow. These recommendations will be discussed and adopted by the heads of states and governments during the European Council.
Host: I would like to remind our audience part of the recommendations of the EC, which were announced towards the end of May. Some of them were to have an adequate pension system, to improve the Roma integration, to improve the education, and to work towards reducing youth unemployment. Could you say that all these recommendations are strictly specific for Bulgaria, or are they points, which concern most of the EU member state, during this difficult for the EU moment?
Zinaida Zlatanova: The recommendations were made in order to correspond accurately to the challenges before each specific economy, of each specific EU member state. This year the EC was very precise in its recommendations and aimed at addressing specific problems, and not give general recommendations, which would have been like giving one medication to 27 different patients. The EC recommendations are made in order to address specific problems in Bulgaria. I think that these problems are not coming to us as a surprise. I doubt that it is news for anyone that Bulgaria has a problem with the Roma integration. I do not think that anyone will be surprised to hear that there is youth unemployment in Bulgaria. I suppose you share my point of view. On the other hand, youth unemployment and social reforms are issues concerning many EU member states. This could also be said with regards to Roma integration. You know that Bulgaria is not the only EU member state, which has room to improve in this field. So back to your question – yes, they are specific recommendations for Bulgaria, and they address very specifically and precisely existing problems in our country, but that does not mean that these problems do not exist in other EU member states.
Host: Yes, especially having in mind the economic crisis in Europe, which have witnessed over the last couple of years, and even more.
Zinaida Zlatanova: Indeed. The very goal of the European Semester, as actually European Semester is a generalised name for a serious pack of measures that have started in Europe three years ago, when the first wave of the crisis started, aiming at improving the economic environment in Europe. This also includes budget supervision and supervision of macroeconomic imbalances. The aim is to identify any possible fields, which could cause problems, or risks at a very early phase, so that we can avoid repeating scenarios, which we are witnessing now, and to be able to handle any problems in good time. This also includes measures against the economic crisis and measures for boosting the economic growth.
Host: I would like to stay on the topic – EC recommendations to Bulgaria. One of the challenges before our country is the ongoing problems with unpaid health and pension assurance instalments, as well as the control for giving pensions to disabled. As you said a couple of minutes ago, it is probably not a surprise for anyone, as we all are aware of the problems ahead of us. Anyway, apart from giving a recommendation, could the EC provide any logistic support in order to help us resolve such issues?
Zinaida Zlatanova: With regards to the revenues, this is a field, which is almost entirely in the jurisdiction of different EU member states. EU members are very jealous about protecting this right. In this field many EU member states are very sensitive about their sovereignty – how far the EU jurisdiction can stretch. So, this is, to a large extend, a jurisdiction of the respective EU member state. In this regard, it is up to the Bulgarian government to improve the level of collected revenues – be it from taxes or pension assurances. Nonetheless, the recommendation points that the revenue collecting administration needs to be improved. I think that this is a very clear recommendation. Furthermore, you know that Bulgaria has the opportunity to absorb a lot of funds from EU funds, including for improving the administrative capacity. So, it is in the hands of the Bulgarian government to decide how to fortify and quickly improve this field, and to resolve this issue.
Host: Which of the recommendations do you think is most important for our country, in order Bulgaria to catch up with the modern European policies and development?
Zinaida Zlatanova: I would not single out any of the seven recommendations. On the contrary, it is important to view these seven recommendations as a whole. I know that there is no way of improving the figures for youth unemployment, without collecting higher revenues. There is no way of improving the Roma integration, without improving the functioning of the social infrastructure, as is written in the recommendations. I.e. the recommendations have been structured very carefully and are interconnected. I will say it again, the EC is trying to be as specific as possible in each of its recommendations. You, the media, saw clearly that the response from NGOs and economic analysts in Bulgaria, upon receiving these recommendations, was very positive, and they all agreed that these were exactly the things Bulgaria needed to do. The next step will be the government to prepare a national reform programme, which should include specific measures for following these recommendations.
Host: Are these your expectations from today’s discussion?
Zinaida Zlatanova: Today’s discussion aims at presenting, with the help of an expert, who arrived from Brussels specifically for this occasion, the recommendations to the state institutions, the NGOs, and the media, and also presenting and justifying the recommendations as you have already seen them. And more importantly, what we expect is to hear everyone’s opinion – of the institutions, NGOs, and naturally the media. This feedback is very important for us, in order to know whether we are on the right way, and whether the national institutions place our recommendations high on their priority lists. The idea is to have a constructive dialogue and co-operation, so that we can deal with these issues in the future.