Working toward the EU: Bulgarian Progress and Serbian Struggles
February 17, 2005
Staff-prepared summary of the EES discussion with John Lampe, Professor of History, University of Maryland-College Park

Having recently returned from a trip to the region, John Lampe offered an updated assessment on the progress of Bulgaria and Serbia in their respective bids to join the EU. The two countries are clearly on different tracks in terms of European integration: while Bulgaria is already a NATO member and is schedule to join the EU in a few years, Serbia is neither a Partnership for Peace member nor an official candidate for EU enlargement. Nevertheless, from a historical perspective, the comparison is interesting given that, until a decade ago, Serbia had always enjoyed a substantially higher standard of living than Bulgaria.

Today, Bulgaria is clearly on track for EU enlargement in 2007. Economic indicators are very encouraging: GDP has continued to rise since 2000, unemployment has fallen from 17.5 percent to 11.9 percent, inflation is under control, bank privatization has been successfully completed and foreign investment represents 20 percent of GDP. Bulgaria is still grappling with problems that other candidate countries face, namely the growing income disparity, both within the general population and between the urban center and the rural countryside. Bulgaria faces a large obstacle, however, in terms of curbing the grey economy and fighting against organized crime and corruption.

Serbia, by contrast, is not yet a candidate for accession to either NATO or EU, which Lampe contends is connected to the struggles facing the country. Candidate status in both institutions could help Serbia's faltering economy, which has experienced negative growth and staggering unemployment rates since 2000. However, candidacy is contingent upon Serbia's cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia: as long as Ratko Mladic and several other war-time generals remain at large, Serbia's European integration will be stalled.

Without the clear promise of enlargement, the Serbian government has found it difficult to push through democratic and market reforms in the country. Uncertainty over the status of Kosovo as well as Serbia's relationship with Montenegro also weighs heavily upon Serbian aspirations. Currently, Serbia-Montenegro is a non-functioning state, which limits both entities from moving forward toward European integration. Lampe laments that the EU's magnetic attraction has not effected Serbia as it has Bulgaria, and Serbia has suffered for it.