By Nick Bryant – 11 February 2017Bulgarian and Romanian governments have rejected a request by the EU to sign a bilateral trade deal, and have said they will not be bound by EU rules.
Bulgary and Romania, two of the EU’s most important Eastern European countries, have said that the agreement would undermine the “European integration” and put the interests of Bulgarians and Romanians at risk.
Bulgaria and Romania are the only countries in the EU that do not have a common customs union.
The two countries have been in the European Economic Area (EEA) since 2007, and both countries have benefited from EU accession to the bloc.
The EU has been trying to revive trade and investment between the two countries since 2009, when it agreed to close a €4.4bn ($5.6bn) trade deficit with Bulgaria.
The deal was signed in July this year.
But Bulgarian Prime Minister Ilias Kasparov said the EU could not give Bulgaria a free trade agreement, saying it would not be in Bulgaria’s interest.
“It is impossible for us to sign the trade agreement with Bulgaria without accepting EU rules,” Kasparova told reporters.
The dispute over the trade deal stems from a lack of mutual recognition, said Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ognjen Mammadov.
The Bulgarian-Romanian deal has faced pressure from the European Commission, which has criticised Bulgaria for its poor record on human rights, human rights violations and corruption.
Bulgaias ruling party, the GERB, said the country was trying to forge a trade deal with Romania, which it described as a “fraudulent” enterprise.
The country’s President Dacian Ciolos said he wanted to see a bilateral agreement with Romania signed in order to “make Bulgaria an important member of the European Union”.
Bulgarians are concerned about the impact on their country’s image and jobs if Romania signs on, saying the deal would be harmful for their economy and that Bulgaria’s government was unable to negotiate an agreement with the Romanian government.
Bulgars EU membership was already suspended in 2010, when Romania’s communist government swept into power and the country’s economy stagnated.
The government in Bucharest said the agreement could lead to an increase in corruption, in particular the role of politicians.
It said it would set up an anti-corruption body to investigate alleged mismanagement of state assets, and that Romanian officials would be prosecuted for corruption.
The European Commission on Monday also warned Bucharest that any decision to sign on to the agreement was in violation of the rules on free movement of goods and services.