According to the findings of a study of Open Society Institute – Sofia eight years after joining the EU, Bulgaria is still lagging behind in the convergence process with the more developed countries in Europe. Bulgaria is at the bottom of the ranking of the EU member states in the Catch Up Index for all its four main categories: Economy, Democracy, Quality of Life and Good Governance.
In the overall ranking for 2014 Bulgaria is the 29th country of 35, going one place down in comparison to 2011 and 2013 and reaching the level of 2012. By categories, the country performs best in the Economy category, where it occupies the 28th position, followed by Democracy (28th position) and Good Governance (29th position), but with a lower score. The country’s poorest performance is in the Quality of Life category, where it takes one of the last places – 30 of 35, which is registered by indicators related to education, healthcare and consumption. By indicators, Bulgaria is performing best in terms of the level of government debt, ranking second after Estonia. Among the country’s worst indicators are energy efficiency – last, 35th place, corruption – 34th place, rule of law – 31st place, freedom of the media – 30th place.
Eight former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) have been EU member states for more than 10 years, Bulgaria and Romania – for eight, and Croatia – for two years. Last year these countries marked two anniversaries – a quarter-century since the fall of the Berlin wall and ten years since the biggest, fifth EU enlargement. Back to Europe was one of the main motivations and rhetoric during the transition and the EU accession was the turning point in this process. Historically, the EU enlargement was undoubtedly a successful step in uniting Europe after years of division, which was a fundamental change for the EU.
At the same time, however, going back to Europe is measured not merely by achieving a membership status. Entering the club of rich, democratic and well-organized states does not automatically make a country such. For the CEE countries, and especially for their citizens, reaching the levels of development of the older EU member states was a desired and expected objective which represents tangible proof of this going back to Europe and the benefits of the EU membership such as levels of economic development, living standard, good governance and democracy.
To monitor and register the convergence and divergence processes in Europe, Open Society Institute – Sofia uses the Catch Up Index (The Catch-up Index). It measures and ranks the achievements of 35 countries in Europe – member states and candidates – by 47 indicators divided into four categories: Economy, Democracy, Quality of Life and Good Governance.
The main conclusion we may draw from the 2014 Index is positive: convergence works and gives results, but some countries are making better, others – more limited, use of their EU membership. Several CEE countries are doing very well and catching up with the reference group of Western countries – old member states.
The country catching up most dynamically and successfully is Estonia, which takes 13th place of 35, going up three positions in comparison to 2011 and 2012. Poland and the other Baltic countries – Lithuania and Latvia also show positive development trends. This means that the timely and resolute reforms pay back and result in the successful catching up of the more developed European states. However, there are bad examples as well – when countries with good starting positions (such as Hungary and Slovenia) deteriorate.
Bulgaria and Romania remain last in all four issues of the Index. However, the countries lagging behind may take comfort from the fact that the EU member states are doing better that the countries which are still outside the EU and after all the membership is of crucial importance.
With regard to the European processes, the index registers the impact after the end of the economic crisis on the continent and outlines the possible groups in Multi-speed Europe. The most developed groups include countries of the northern and northwestern parts of the continent. The groups lagging behind are in the southeastern part of Europe – the Balkans.
The 2014 Index confirms the trend of the widening North/South divide which is gradually replacing the previous gap between Eastern and Western Europe, since many of the formal Communist countries and new member states are catching up with the most developed western countries by a number of indicators.
The study confirms the correlation between key indicators such as the quality of education (assessed by PISA) and the level of media freedom of a country.
The full text of the report The Gravity Effect: Findings of the European Catch-Up Index 2014.