This paper argues against the view that Bulgaria’s EU accession was premature and that the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) is not delivering. The EU’s continued leverage and the efficacy of the CVM are explained in a framework that goes beyond the dual-conditionality paradigm of incentives and sanctions, and beyond the unitary players model of EU-Bulgarian relations. In this framework, the CVM is viewed as an instrument for supportive reinforcement rather than for the imposition of sanctions. Furthermore, it is seen as targeting not just the government, but all Bulgarian stakeholders. The CVM is regarded as very effective at the level of public opinion and civil society, and as a mechanism that contributes to ‘sandwiching’ reform-reluctant Bulgarian governments between pressure from Brussels and domestic pressure for reforms. The CVM is also deemed useful for Bulgaria’s further Europeanisation beyond the narrower pre-accession phase of ‘EU-isation’. The paper suggests that eventual post-accession benchmarks might be appropriate in the process of further EU enlargement if properly understood as instruments for granting support and if discussed broadly with stakeholders beyond the executive. Concerning the efficiency/legitimacy dilemma, it is asserted that the CVM is an opportunity for increasing the EU’s legitimacy.
Antoinette Primatarova is a Programme Director at the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia.