Bucharest, Romania-15 years after Romania and Bulgaria joined the European Union, many residents said that the former communist countries are certainly more suitable for it.
But the two countries still have some way to go before they can end local corruption, promote economic growth, and prevent their citizens from leaving to seek financial opportunities elsewhere.
“EU funds are to us like Russia’s gas funds, or Saudi Arabia’s oil funds,” said Cristiana Genia, who served as Romania’s European Fund Minister a few months ago. He listed new roads, tap water in rural areas, and the first waste management system in the village, all of which are specific benefits for members.
But funding from the European Union is not enough to bring the quality of life in Bulgaria and Romania to an average level in many regions.
Shocking levels of child poverty still exist. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the average life expectancy in Bulgaria was 74.91 years, Romania was 75.46 years, and the average life expectancy within the EU was 81.3 years. The pandemic has further exposed the serious shortcomings of the aging and underfunded healthcare systems in these countries.
Such conditions persuaded millions of Romanians and Bulgarians to use the group’s cornerstone “freedom of movement” policy to leave Southeast Europe to live and work in the West.
Guinha admitted that the “huge benefits” of joining the European Union are accompanied by major drawbacks of brain drain, which has created “large numbers of diasporas” in Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and other places in the West.
“We are talking about nearly 4 million people,” Ghinea said. “It may drive away many young and talented people who could have played a bigger role internally.”
Last year, more than 1 million Romanians applied to stay in the UK under the post-Brexit residency program. According to data from the German Federal Employment Agency, the number of Romanian nationals employed in Germany increased from approximately 88,000 in January 2014 to nearly 463,000 in September 2021.
Diana Ruseva, 39, moved from Bulgaria to London in 2007 to work and study, and was one of the EU citizens who decided to stay in the UK. She said that she believed that joining the EU would bring benefits to her home country. Mixed results.
“It has changed a lot, but it hasn’t changed at the same time,” she said. “The standard of living has definitely improved by several miles. Most of my peers have the same standard of living as mine in the UK”
At the same time, underdeveloped infrastructure, dangerous roads and heavy bureaucracy remain in the country and may bring “low-level pressures that you have to deal with every day,” Ruseva said.
Both Bulgaria and Romania applied to join the European Union in the mid-1990s, and on a long journey they became part of the European Union on January 1, 2007. One of the main conditions is that both countries have solved the rampant corruption problem, in Bulgaria’s case, organized crime.
Although Brussels has initiated customized monitoring procedures and various domestic anti-corruption actions over the years, it is believed that the two countries have made slow progress in combating corruption.
In Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index, Romania and Bulgaria both scored 44 points (out of 100 points), with 100 points having the lowest level of corruption. Although Bulgaria has risen by 3 points in TI’s global country rankings since 2012, Romania’s score has not changed.
There are still many shortcomings, but there have been measurable improvements.
Since 2007, wages in both countries have increased steadily. According to market data company Statista, the total minimum wage in Romania has risen from 390 lei (79 euros) in 2007 to 2,300 lei (465 euros) in 2021. Bulgarian wages follow a similar trajectory.
In a statement commemorating the 15th anniversary of Romania’s accession to the European Union, Romanian President Klaus Johannes stated that “the European road remains the only legitimate choice for Romania’s prosperity, stability and long-term development.”
His views are widely shared among Romanian and Bulgarian citizens. A poll conducted by the European Union Eurobarometer in 2021 shows that their trust in the EU is twice the trust in their own government.
In recent years, large-scale anti-government protests have shaken the governments of Bucharest and Sofia due to concerns about democratic regression. Such concerns have sometimes caused criticism from Brussels.
Experts say that extreme distrust of government authorities-not uncommon in post-communist countries-may help explain why Romania and Bulgaria are the two countries with the lowest vaccination rates in the EU, with only 48% and 33% respectively. The adult population is fully vaccinated. Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia (COVID-19): New Coronary Pneumonia (COVID-19): COVID-19.
The political instability in these two countries has reported the highest COVID-19 death rate in the world in recent months, which may not help. However, those who have chosen to stay in Bulgaria and Romania since becoming a member of the European Union do not believe that Brussels is responsible for countries that are still trying to catch up.
For Rudolf Joachim Poledna, who lives in the village of Saschiz, nearly 300 kilometers north of the Romanian capital, Bucharest, the EU rural development grant of 100,000 euros (US$112,000) allowed him to build a four-bedroom hotel, which meant he and his Of young families “do not have to leave the area.”
“For young people like us, there is no better funding possibility than EU funds,” Poledna said. “I still remember Romania before joining the European Union-by today’s standards, it was poverty.”
Frank Jordans in Berlin, Germany; Veselin Toshkov in Sofia, Bulgaria contributed to this report.