The PhD conference “The European Union in the eye of the storm”

The PhD conference “The European Union in the “eye of the storm”– United Europe or the Europe of the nations” took place on October 29, 2022. [...]

“Young voices for energizing Europe”

The proceedings from the students’s scientific conference “Young voices for energizing Europe” hosted b y„ Antoine de Saint Exupéry” promotion could downloaded here. [...]

“The Rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union – from Empirical Facts towards Expert Evaluation”

There is no such thing as unsuccessful rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union – this rather humorous maxim, which is widely popular among academic and political experts on European affairs, has the potential to discourage any attempt at evaluating the Presidency. [...]

“The Call for More Europe – Ambitions and Realities”

On October 14-15, 2021, the Department of European Studies held its Eighth International Scientific Conference, named "The Call for More Europe - Ambitions and Realities". [...]

“Europe – Green, Digital, Global”

  The annual student scientific conference "Europe - Green, Digital, Global" of the Leonardo da Vinci promotion  in European Studies, was held on June 1, 2021 in Aula Magna of Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski". [...]


Research Strand 1

Lead researcher under this research strand is Prof. Georgi Dimitrov.

Justification of the study’s relevance

In the beginning of the Fifth EU’s Enlargement and throughout its preparation and accomplishment, it was considered THE “Eastern enlargement of the Union” (in singular). Despite the facts that:

а) initially there was no clear idea how many countries would be accepted;
b) Cyprus and Malta, too, were included in the group of Central and East European countries;
c) The Vishegrad sub-group of post-communist countries stubbornly insisted to be treated as Central not Eastern European, this phrase became standard. In academic literature till now “The Eastern Enlargement of the EU” designates the historical process through which the EU enlarged to 27 and later to 28 members.

However, in the course of these developments some unexpected peculiarities emerged – firstly, the initial 10 CEECs were subdivided into a Luxemburg and a Helsinki group. Secondly, Bulgaria not only dropped out from the second subgroup for another three years but were subjected to the unprecedented post-accession conditionality because of the quality difference of their EU integration. Besides, Croatia joined the EU in 2013 and that counts as the Sixth enlargement of the Union. Yet, the terms of its accession to the then 27 members are under the specific conditionality whose political methodology is the very same as the one applied to the next new applicants for EU membership from the Western Balkans and Turkey and some of them steadily progress towards full compliance with membership criteria.

All these facts mean that the EU’s enlargement after 1995 includes, simultaneously, both qualitative transformations and forms of continuity of the process which prevents us from some self-evident temporal or political structuring. To speak of “The Eastern Enlargement” would imply that we choose to prioritize the importance of the perpetual commonality in all stages over the essentially different. The main goal of the current long-term research project is exactly the identification of the non-obvious between the two aspects of the historical process of EU’s enlargement(s).


Work period:  October 2016- September 2017

 Main goal, methodology and research tasks

The main goal of this research sub-project is:

– to identify key persistent specificities of the pattern of interaction between the accession countries and the European Commission in its capacity of ‘locomotive of the Eastern enlargement of the EU’ (Hughes et al.); specificities, which can be understood as a demonstration of the characteristic political model of EU’s enlargement policy;

– to identify the level of (in)consistency of these specificities to the aims of EU accession preparations in order to propose policy recommendations for improving its effectiveness in the EU accession countries.

The subject-matter of this study is the very process of interaction between the EC and an accession country which should lead to the creation of sufficient capacity for bearing the responsibilities of EU membership. Because of some historical premises but not out of any deliberate intentions, the pre-accession conditionality emerged as the major one in the complex set of instruments in EU’s enlargement policy tool-box. The conditionality itself is maintained by a pack of particular instruments and, yet, in its own complex methodology the monitoring and evaluations of the EU applicant/accession countries’ advancement figure prominently. Initially, the documents of the European Commission (EC) speak of countries’ preparedness only but in the process of preparations it become clear that there are different levels of preparedness. Hence, the political accent was transferred to the least acceptable level – satisfactory progress allowing EU membership.

This is why the empirical material, which will be used for the purpose of the current study, will be the annual EC’s country progress reports containing its monitoring results and evaluations. This is tremendous narrowing of the object of study, which – otherwise – would include a huge complex of diplomatic, political, inter and intra-party relations and even interpersonal relations, too, as well as influences from the historical context, from the shifts in public opinion, etc.

The narrowing of the scope of research on the texts of EC’s monitoring reports is justified by the assumption that these country reports are the major official manifestation of the interaction, which has taken place between the respective country, and the EC and they carry in them the specific political character of this interaction. That is, no matter how much more complex, deeper, much more diversified, and nuanced (not to mention the liveliness and curiosities-fullness) the entire picture otherwise would be if we include all these components and aspect of historical process, the enlarged and thicker picture would not be qualitatively different as a political evaluation of the respective countries.

This is to say that – with all due caveats – we consider the country reports as representative of the entity of political processes undergone and of the political approach towards the EU enlargement in particular, to the extent to which the reports contain the essential characteristics of both the monitored countries and the monitoring agency and, as well as, – the characteristics of the pattern of interaction between them.

It is constantly repeated throughout the thousands pages of academic literature on the EU’s Eastern enlargement that the crucial premise for effectiveness of the pre-accession conditionality, implemented in the form of EC’s monitoring, is the clear, objective, consistent and impartial implementation of the latter. This is exactly the ground for the expectation that the national governments will (although they are not legally bound to do so) accept the recommendations in the annual reports as key guidelines for their local reform policies and, therefore, the level of national compliance with the EC’s recommendations is considered a major indicator of progress of the respective society to match the EU-membership criteria.

Hence, the level of political significance of the EC’s annual country reports is substantially above-discursive and the dynamics represented there is of a paramount importance for the understanding of the structural transformations of the political relationships.

The implicit methodological task which should be solve for the purpose of the analysis planned

is to create an original tool for quantitative analysis of the texts of the annual progress reports which will not reduce the substantive richness and multi-level meaning to just a single dominating stance but, instead, will capture the real ambiguity and controversies in the EC’s evaluations and recommendations. The basic requirement to the novel analytical tool is to allow capturing the particular policy state of play beyond the specifics of a concrete situation (in agriculture, environment, transport, competitiveness, etc.) and in terms of the respective – positive or negative – dynamics.

The analytical tool we devised is comprised of 826 separate multi-dimensional indicators  whose empirical findings are later on integrated in a single quantitative esteem of the respective policy field, concerning both the country’s advancement (or lack of advancement) and the specificity of EC’s response to it. This analysis was carried on – as a pilot phase of the research – on the EC’s progress reports on Bulgaria in 1998 and 1999.

Summary of our key findings

  • The European Commission works in a bureaucratic manner and this character of its work is easy to recognize in a variety of structural and stylistic specificities of the annual country reports. Even at the formal level of the contents lists compared with the contents of the texts one can detect the inattentive, i.e. without the due responsibility, bureaucratic performance of the authors of the reports. Nonetheless,
  • The reports fulfil their major purpose – to inform (and orient) about the course of developments in the country’s preparation for EU-membership because they provided a detailed and, overall, realistic picture. The ground for this generalization is the abundance of very concrete facts and the finely nuanced evaluations provided in the reports. Hence,
  • The traditional accusation against the EC that its evaluations are vague and nebulous is, to a large extent, a gross misunderstanding. The Commission’s reports are pretty clear in proving the ambivalent, contradictory and many-facet situation in the respective policy fields, and, subsequently, in the country as a whole at the particular moment of time.
  • In general, the EC’s work is characterized by a high level of consistency of meaning and evaluation – there a direct correspondence between the empirical facts reported and the political evaluation of the country’s advancement stemming from them. However,
  • There is a bulk of cases – amounting to nearly one third of all cases – where no consistency between facts and evaluations could be found. Taking this finding into account, it is reasonable to claim, as a general conclusion from our research, that it has been empirically proven that the way EC performed its monitoring and evaluative functions does not imply (or rely on) any sound, systematically followed methodology.
  • Because of the latter specificity of the approach to the EU accession it is a matter of arbitrariness which aspects and elements of the national situation will come into the focus of attention and become a subject of evaluation – be it in terms of departure from the previous state of play or in terms of approach EU-membership standards; would that be the level of acquis communautaire transposing or the practical implementation of the latter or its results. It is by a rule of a thumb whether the recommendation will be of some specific, concrete contents or just most abstract, meaningless encouragements (“to double the efforts”, “more work”, “further enthusiasm and will is needed”, etc.).

It is important to stress that all these specificities of the monitoring and evaluative process which appear as if “defects” of the pre-accession conditionality actually culminate to a common character of the political approach of the Eastern enlargement, to which the EC’s annual progress reports are mere embodiment. Through the “shortcomings” of the instrument exactly the upper geopolitical consideration can turn to be decisive in the enlargement decision-making about a country’s (non)compliance with EU-membership standards.

*It was the establishment of this crucial empirical fact of the subordinate role of the pre-accession conditionality to the high EU political stakes, which made it necessary to fundamentally change our research program. Having in mind the empirical findings of the first pilot stage of our study, the team grasped the need to focus on the broader and deeper complexity of the political process, which leads eventually to the decision on EU-membership of an accession country.

*The research was carried out by team comprised of: Prof. G. Dimirov, Dr. Habil., team-leader; Assoc. Prof. K. Haralampiev, statistician; Participants –  Assoc. Prof. M. Veleva, A. Plachkova, PhD student, Al. Petkova, student, A. Angelova, student, D Tsankova, student, R. Gerasimova; Sv. Yordanova, student.*

So far, the research findings of our work has been presented in the following academic publications:

  • Dimitrov, G., A. Plachkova, 2019. Bulgaria and Romania – Twin Cinderellas in the European Union: Their Contribution to the Change of EU Policy for Democracy and Rule of Law Promotion, European Politics and Society, (forthcoming in 2019).
  • Plachkova, A. 2019. Democratization in Southeastern Europe through Integration into the EU: Formalism or Meaningful Differentiation?, SEER (forthcoming in 2019).
  • Плачкова, А. 2018. Демокрация и върховенство на правото в процеса на подготовка за членство в ЕС – случаят с България, Сърбия и Македония, Социологически проблеми, брой 1, 2018
  • Plachkova, A. – The Cooperation and Verification Mechanism in Bulgaria and Romania as a transition from a pre- to post-accession conditionality and it’s inevitable crisis, Sofia University & The Friedrich Naumann Foundation.
  • Плачкова, А. 2018. Потенциал на Европейския Съюз за демократизация на страните, кандидатстващи за членство в него – натрупан опит и перспективи, дисертационен труд за присъждане на образователна и научна степен „Доктор” по научна специалност 3.3 Политически науки, СУ „Св. Климент Охридски“.
  • Велева, М. 2018. Динамика на националните интереси като условие за реализацията на Източното разширяване на ЕС, дисертационен труд за присъждане на научната степен доктор на политологическите науки, СУ „Св. Климент Охридски“.


(A case study on Bulgaria)

 Work period – October 2017- September 2018

Our research findings in the first year of the project concerning the decisive dependence of the enlargement instrumentarium (the EC’s monitoring, namely) on the EU’s politics necessitated a fundamental re-orientation of our research design in substantive and methodological terms.

The subject of study should become exactly the complexity of multi-level interaction among a multitude of agents who change in the course of events – EU’s institutions, member-states, national and European political parties, persons (leaders and office executives), as well as, on behalf of the applicant country, – governmental institutions, working groups, political parties and figures, administrative officials, who all are subdued in the ‘power field’ of specific historical, international and global political developments, issues and ideas, mass attitudes included.

Since the major bulk of these interactions proceed at a distance from (and, sometimes, even against the written rules of the EU integration), only the recollections of the events by the participants in them could provide evidence of their contents. This implies a redirection of our research instruments towards a qualitative methodology. The latter should reach beyond the discursive practices up to the social reality, which the discourses represent in an ideologically biased way or even try to hide.

Having in mind that the respondents have been involved in the EU integration process at different stages and in different professional capacities, the research team decided to take semi-structure in-depth interviews in order to minimize the influence of the personal differences. The questions in the questionnaire concern the key events and aspects of the Bulgarian EU accession process with a special focus on those, which are points of heated controversies in academic literature. (The questionnaire is available here in Appendix 1.) The interviews lasted, in general, about half an hour, up to hour and a half. Five respondents preferred to send us their written replies.

The research started with a preliminary list of 50 persons who have had a direct and essential  participation in the preparations and the Bulgarian EU accession. These are prime ministers, vice-prime ministers in charge of EU integration, Bulgarian chief negotiators, ministers and deputy ministers, directors of EU integration divisions at various ministries, diplomats, experts, negotiation team-leaders on different chapters. Twelve of the listed persons could not be reached for a variety of reasons. Thirteen persons declined our invitation. However, our initial list has been permanently extended with new names, nominated by our respondents as key figures in the process. In total, we collected the memoires of 46 prominent participants in the Bulgarian EU accession, starting the interview process in October 2017 and ending in September 2018. They have been involved in the process in different capacities:

Position N
Prime-minister 2
Vice-prime minister in charge of EU integration 5
Minister 6
Bulgarian Chief negotiator 2
Deputy minister 8
Director of EU integration directorate 6
Head of EU integration department 3
Diplomat 7
Expert 7
Total 46

The archive of these memoires is open access, publicly available at the site of the Diplomatic Institute of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs[1] whose institutional help and support with the second phase of our research project was crucial for its accomplishment. The publication of the archive as a two-volume edition is forth-coming in 2019.

The analysis of the empirical information in the archive is currently ongoing.

Research team: Prof. G. Dimirov, Dr. Habil., team-leader. Participants – B. Decheva (Diplomacy Institute), Assoc. Prof. M. Veleva, Dr. Habil., L. Popova, PhD student, D. Michev, student, M. Venova, student, M. Yordanova, student.

Further information:

  1. Questionnaire for semi-structured in-depth interviews
  2. Explanatory note presenting the memoire project at the Diplomatic Institute website