The Emergence of Regional Policy in Bulgaria: regional problems, EU influences and domestic constraints
In most of the European transition economies regional policy is a relatively new phenomenon, given the absence of a coherent framework for such policy during the Communist era. In Southeast Europe in particular, regional policy was slow to develop also in the transition period. This was in many respects due to the relative hysteresis of the transition process in the region but also to other particularities related to the ethnic conflicts and a generally slower European association process. Regional policy in Bulgaria has for all analytical purposes been notably absent in the 1990s and only started shaping up mainly as a response to EU pressures and requirements. This was despite the significant problems of disparity and backwardness faced by many regional and local economies of the country – and the trend of widening inequality associated with the processes of transition and fast economic growth. Nevertheless (or, as a consequence), the emerging regional policy framework in Bulgaria reflects strongly the EU influence and shows little sensitivity to, and appreciation of, the main regional and spatial problems that policy in the country should be addressing. This paper addresses the structure and effectiveness of the emerging regional policy in Bulgaria by evaluating the nature of regional disparities in the country, examining the development of regional policy, and discussing the role played by the EU (through its accession conditionality, its own regional policy and its pre-accession aid) for these developments. This analysis provides useful conclusions regarding the strengths and weaknesses of Bulgaria’s regional policy and helps highlight the main challenges for the future design of regional policy in the country, in its new phase of development as a full EU member.
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