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Austria and the accession of Bulgaria

Innsbruck. Photo: Alan Grant

This cross-party political consensus held firm for the accession of Bulgaria and Romania. In December 1994, before Austrian EU accession, only 20 percent of Austrians were in favour of Bulgaria joining the EU. In 2005, this figure remained the same. During this period, popular opposition to Bulgarian accession hardened - from 57 percent in 1994 to 69 percent in 2005.

In spite of public opinion, politicians from both major parties defended Bulgarian accession as in Austria's long-term national interest. Finance Minister Wilhelm Molterer said on 12 April 2006:

"This enlargement will not only provide Europe with an important perspective, but also our own country. Enlargement will result in growth and security gains and, therefore, jobs for Austria."

Bulgaria, president Heinz Fischer fielded a question from a journalist as follows:

"Accession on 1 January 2007 is the right thing… When I consider that Bulgaria had to solve 146 problems just a couple of years ago, and now, only six are left, then I think this last sprint will also be possible by the end of the year."

Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel also praised the EU Austrian presidency in July 2006 for the way it had brought Balkan enlargement forward:

"Regarding EU enlargement, the accession date of Romania and Bulgaria has been finalised, and the first chapter of negotiations has been concluded with Croatia. Macedonia has candidate status. There have been successful negotiations with Serbia and Montenegro. A stabilization agreement was signed with Albania. In sum, the (Austrian) foreign ministry has managed to harvest a lot."

Throughout this whole period, neither of the two opposition parties - the Austrian Social Democrats and the Greens - exploited the opportunity to attack the government on what was potentially a highly unpopular policy. Nobody ever suggested a referendum on Bulgarian or Romanian accession. On 26 April 2006, the Austrian parliament ratified the 2007 EU accession of Bulgaria and Romania with only two dissenting votes.

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