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Stuggling with Europeanisation - Bulgaria's and Romania's Structural Funds

Neculai-Cristian Surubaru

Six years after joining the European Union, Bulgaria and Romania have the lowest absorption rate of European structural and cohesion funds from all EU-27 countries. Moreover, as of February 2013, Bulgaria has absorbed three times more structural funds than Romania. This paper seeks to unpack the concept of "absorption capacity" by examining the potential factors associated with Bulgaria's and Romania's low absorption rates. This is an under-researched area, particularly for Central and Eastern European states, with few definitions advanced by the literature (Brusis 2002; Sumpikova 2003; Horvat & Maier 2005; Jaenike 2011). This paper addresses the following research questions: What are the factors that determine these countries' low absorption capacity? Given Bulgaria's and Romania's similar integration path and political, social and economic configurations - what may explain the variation between the two cases? Discussions on the impact that cohesion policies have had on new member states (Bachtler & McMaster 2007) provides a basis for analysing developments in the two countries. In addition, the paper builds on recent Europeanization contributions on the importance of domestic factors (Borzel & Risse 2011; Sedelmeir 2011) taking also into consideration the political economy literature that scrutinizes the evolution of post-communist states. The empirics of the paper are twofold. First, two country profiles are created based on data provided by the World Bank, Eurostat and focusing on four indicators of development (economic, societal, territorial and governance). Second, an analysis matrix of absorption capacity is developed using four interlinking factors grouped in four clusters (institutional, administrative, human, and external). Overall, the paper claims that clientelism and "interest cartels" (Dimitrova 2010), coupled with a problematic inter-institutional coordination and unsuitable working procedures, as well as highly centralized administrations and a low degrees of autonomy at the regional level are some of the principal factors that affect Bulgaria's and Romania's performance in managing European funding.

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