Many residents feel that fifteen years after Romania and Bulgaria entered the European Union, the former communist countries are unquestionably better for it.
However, the two countries still have a long way to go in terms of eradicating endemic corruption and generating the kind of economic growth that will discourage citizens from fleeing to other countries in search of better financial prospects.
Funding from the EU hasn’t gone far enough to bring Bulgaria and Romania’s quality of life up to par in many places.
Child poverty is still at alarmingly high levels. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the average life expectancy in Bulgaria and Romania was 74.91 and 75.46, respectively, compared to an EU-wide average of 81.3. The pandemic has exposed severe weaknesses in the aged and underfunded healthcare systems of the countries.
As a result of these circumstances, millions of Romanians and Bulgarians have taken advantage of the bloc’s cornerstone “freedom of movement” policy and moved to the West to live and work.
The “huge benefits” of EU membership came with a big drawback: a brain drain that has resulted in “huge diasporas” in Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and other Western countries.
Last year, more than 1 million Romanians sought for post-Brexit residency in the United Kingdom. According to Germany’s Federal Employment Agency, the number of Romanians employed in Germany increased from over 88,000 in January 2014 to nearly 463,000 in September 2021.
Both Bulgaria and Romania applied for EU membership in the mid-1990s and took long routes to join the bloc on January 1, 2007. One of the primary requirements was that both countries combat widespread corruption, as well as organized crime in Bulgaria’s instance.
Despite Brussels’ establishment of a bespoke monitoring framework and many domestic anti-corruption crackdowns over the years, the two countries are seen as making modest progress in combating corruption.
Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index gave Romania and Bulgaria a 44 out of 100 score, with 100 being the least corrupt. Romania’s score has remained unchanged since 2012, despite Bulgaria moving up three points in TI’s global country ranking.
There are still many flaws, although there have been significant improvements.
Both countries’ wages have continuously climbed since 2007. Romania’s gross minimum wage increased from 390 lei (79 euros) in 2007 to 2300 lei (465 euros) in 2021. Bulgarian wages followed a similar pattern.
The European path is the only viable alternative for Romania’s long-term prosperity, stability, and progress. This sentiment is held by a large number of Romanians and Bulgarians. People have twice as much faith in the European Union as they do in their own governments.
In recent years, mass anti-government protests have rocked the administrations of Bucharest and Sofia, spurred by fears of democratic backsliding, which has drawn censure from Brussels at times.
Deep suspicion of government officials is not commonplace in post-communist countries, which may explain why Romania and Bulgaria are the EU’s two least-vaccinated countries, with only 48 percent and 33 percent of their adult populations fully vaccinated against COVID-19, respectively.
Political unrest in both countries, which have recently reported some of the highest COVID-19 death rates in the world, may not have helped matters. People who opted to stay in Bulgaria and Romania after they joined the EU do not hold Brussels responsible for the country’s continued attempts to catch up.
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