Bulgaria’s ambitions to join the eurozone in mid-2024 are unrealistic but the country could meet all the criteria in time to join in January 2025, Valdis Dombrovskis, the European Commission's vice-president in charge of economic policy, said during a visit to Sofia on February 23.
Earlier in February, Prime Minister Gulub Donev's caretaker government said Sofia would not apply for eurozone entry on January 1 next year. Subsequently, caretaker Finance Minister Rositsa Velkova said the country could aim for mid-2024.
“January 1, 2025 is a realistic date for Bulgaria’s joining the eurozone,” Dombrovskis said in an interview with Nova TV.
He added that the EC is supporting Bulgaria’s efforts to join the eurozone but the country is yet to meet the Maastricht criteria.
Currently, the main issue is the high inflation. Dombrovskis said that the inflation rate hike will slow down too slowly to meet the criteria.
Bulgaria’s annual inflation rate slowed slightly in January, but remained high at 16.4%, according to the latest data from the statistics office. The rate grew for 19 consecutive months before starting to slow in October 2022.
Dombrovskis added that so far, the eurozone members have been strict in admitting new members only if the Maastricht criteria are fully met and making an exception for Bulgaria is unlikely.
The second main reason is that Bulgaria's entry to the eurozone at the start of a year is more convenient for everyone, Dombrovskis said at a press conference.
Meanwhile, the country still needs to adopt several laws to become a member of the eurozone.
Adoption of the euro is expected to enhance investment in Bulgaria, the poorest member of the European Union. However, efforts to meet the criteria to join the European single currency have been impeded by the prolonged political crisis. Bulgaria is due to hold its fifth general election in two years this April.
Velkova said earlier in February that there was a “serious backlog” in the legislative part of the criteria for euro adoption.
Several laws — namely those concerning changes to the Insurance Code, the Law on Measures against Money Laundering and the Commercial Law in the field of bankruptcy — were submitted to the parliament but adopted only in the first reading before the parliament was dismissed.
Bulgaria was accepted into the eurozone’s waiting room, the ERM II mechanism, in July 2020 along with Croatia. However, as political instability in Bulgaria stymied reform progress, Croatia drew ahead and became the latest country to enter the eurozone in January 2023.
While most mainstream political parties want Bulgaria to become more deeply integrated within the EU, a June 2022 poll carried out by Eurobarometer showed that Bulgarians are the most sceptical among all the EU member states that have not yet introduced the euro.
That poll showed 54% of Bulgarians were against the introduction of the EU currency, while there was at least a slim majority in favour in all of the other countries — Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Sweden and (at that time) Croatia. Around 60% of Bulgarians said they expected negative consequences.