There is no public campaign that in plain language explains to people the meaning and steps in the process of our country's accession to the eurozone and prevents the growth of rumors and the intensification of anxiety, said during the forum "The Role of Organized Civil Society in the Process of Bulgaria's Accession to the Eurozone" the NAMRB Executive Director Silviya Georgieva.
"It is time to get out of the Granite Hall of the Council of Ministers and start locally in clear and accessible language, with logical arguments to explain to people why we are doing this, why it is good and why it is not scary," said Silvia Georgieva in her speech during the forum organized by the Economic and Social Council. She touched on two aspects of the process of preparing for joining the eurozone, which are essential from the point of view of municipalities and NAMRB as their union: explaining the meaning of this effort and the specific changes that are forthcoming in the work of municipal administrations.
The transition to the eurozone requires municipalities to make serious changes in their internal administrative processes – from readjustment of financial and accounting systems, through recalculation of taxes and assets, payments, forms, fees for administrative services, etc. The transformation for municipalities will be radical, said Silvia Georgieva and pointed out that despite the uncertainties on specific issues, from the end of May NAMRB will start active work with the financiers of municipalities. She also drew attention to some issues that are important for local government. One of them is the introduction of single payments through the SEPA system. NAMRB insists that the sequence of repayment of public liabilities be regulated when making payments. Another issue that needs to be resolved before the date of accession is the update of tax assessments, which drastically differ from market assessments and are practically implemented in the informal sector, besides harming the budget. She also drew attention to the fact that not a few state institutions are urgently updating the fees they collect, and this could have a direct impact on citizens' perception of the process of switching to the euro.
For the new term of the local government, NAMRB will work actively not only with the mayors of municipalities, with the members and chairmen of local parliaments, but also with the mayors of mayoralties and mayoral deputies. They are the public opinion leaders on the ground, especially in hard-to-reach rural areas and small villages.
"When we talk about trust in the eurozone, we must bear in mind that it is directly dependent on people's trust in institutions, and it is at a critical minimum," Silvia Georgieva said.
It is true that a huge amount of work has been done in Sofia to prepare legislation and to plan the technical transition to the single European currency, but it remains invisible to both the public and the administrative structures on the ground, municipalities and ordinary people. This not transparency in the work of the central administration fears the society, Georgieva said.
The lack of clarity on many aspects of the process of our country's accession to the eurozone and a structured communication campaign were highlighted by the other speakers at the conference – representatives of the government, trade unions, employers' organizations and central institutions.
And while each of the participants from his perspective appreciated what and how could be done to better inform citizens, the President of the Economic and Social Council of Croatia Ivan Misetic, who together with his colleagues took part in the discussions, said: "The campaign for the country's accession to the euro is a communication process that we in Croatia entrusted to professionals. They are able to identify individual target groups, assess their experiences and knowledge deficits, formulate the right messages and address them at the right time. We do not need to think of a way for people to ask their questions to the Minister of Economy or the Minister of Finance. If the answers to all potential questions are clear, specialists know how to reach the people who are interested in these answers. It is extremely important in the process not only to gather and discuss with people who are convinced of the benefits of eurozone membership. It is more important to talk to the insecure and opponents, to understand their arguments and fears, in order to formulate the right motives with which we can convince them," Misetic stressed.
Representatives of government, trade union, employers' and civic structures from Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, as well as guests from the World Bank, shared their experience in the process of joining the eurozone.
The opening of the forum was attended by the President of the 49th National Assembly Rossen Jeliazkov and the Deputy Prime Minister of European Funds Management Atanas Pekanov.
Crises are no longer surprising events, but part of everyday life, President of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (CITUB) in Bulgaria Plamen Dimitrov emphasized in his speech. They reset the mechanisms by which society functions and make the processes visible to it, he believes. Therefore, according to Dimitrov, it is of utmost importance that power demonstrates strength and ability to manage processes. He believes that one of the indicative signals of the government's potential to deal with the risks of the changeover to the euro is the containment of prices of basic products today. This thesis also supports the data from the sociological survey conducted at the end of 2022 on the attitudes of Bulgarian citizens towards the adoption of the euro – the main range of topics that form skepticism are related to inflation, prices, taxes.
The discussion on the specific dimensions of the accession process and the questions asked by citizens outlined the main problems on which the institutions should focus their efforts in the coming months. There is still no draft legislation prepared for the transition to the single European currency, there are many laws and regulations that need amendments. There is a lack of specifics regarding the recalculation of pensions, social security contributions, tax and credit obligations. The mechanisms for exchanging personal savings are not clarified. Between the work of the different sectoral working groups, white spots remain, which demonstrate the need for more joint efforts and good synchronization between institutions, as well as active involvement of all civil society structures, most of the speakers in the conference stressed.
Photo: Discussions in the Council of Ministers’ meeting room
"We have a number of issues that should be resolved in the Law on the introduction of the euro, which we expect to be presented soon to MPs and the Bulgarian society. But in fact, what the benefits are and how we will deal with the challenges are not the most important questions. We need to answer only one question "Why should Bulgaria be part of the Eurozone?". We must give this answer in plain and understandable language, said Stanislav Popdonchev, Deputy Chairman of the Bulgarian Industrial Association (BIA) and Chairman of the Economic Policy Committee at the Economic and Social Council of the Republic of Bulgaria (ESC).
For now, the information space, which publishes answers to questions related to Bulgaria's accession to the euro area, is located on the website of the Ministry of Finance: https://www.minfin.bg/bg/1606