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Opinion

Banking union: Why baulk at Bulgaria?

The country has the right to join, yet EU leaders are stalling.

Should Bulgaria be allowed to join the eurozone and the EU’s banking union? That is the question that has been under consideration by European policymakers this summer.

In theory, of course, Bulgaria not only has a right to join both but is legally obliged to do so, under the conditions of its accession to the bloc.

In practice, the response of EU leaders to Bulgaria’s request to enter the Exchange Rate Mechanism – the precursor to euro adoption – has been lukewarm. While agreeing in principle in late June, they kicked the can as far as possible down the road by setting an assessment period of “at least a year”.

Caution

Their caution is not due to Bulgaria’s macroeconomic position. The country easily meets the Maastricht criteria. What EU policymakers are not happy about are Bulgaria’s low income levels, failure to get a grip on corruption and the integrity – or lack thereof – of its banking sector.

At first glance, such circumspection seems reasonable. Bulgaria’s institutions remain weak and governance is shoddy.

Concerns about the stability of its banking sector are also not without foundation. It is only four years since the collapse of the country’s fourth-largest lender, Corpbank, revealed shocking failures of management and supervision.

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