Since our independence back in 1991 the ‘name dispute’ has been looming over our heads. Should the upcoming referendum this Sunday pass and both countries ratify it, the almost three-decade long quarrel between Macedonia and Greece will be over.
With both sides making concessions, from as neutral a standpoint as I can take, it is hard to assess who’s ‘giving up’ more. One thing is for sure though – the campaign for the ‘Yes’ vote is highly reminiscent of Brexit campaigner’s lavish use of half-truths and carefully chosen facts.
To start things off, the referendum question which shall read as follows: “Do you support EU and NATO membership by accepting the agreement between Macedonia and Greece?” which is both unclear and unconstitutional at worst, controversial best.
On the other hand, the official name of the ‘Yes’ campaign reads: ‘United FOR European Macedonia’. This, coupled with the ambiguousness of the referendum question one might think that, should the referendum pass, we’d join EU straight away. But as the prime minister himself said, the process of joining the EU lasts seven years on average, meaning the earliest we could join is 2025, should everything go according to plan and fulfill all the requirements, something that not many people know.
Given how ambiguous the referendum question and the campaign name are, one might think that, should the referendum pass, we’d join EU straight away.
Little do people know, however, that the process of joining the EU lasts seven years on average, as pointed out by the prime minister himself,, meaning the earliest we could join is 2025, should everything go according to plan and fulfill all the requirements.
Most frustrating, however, is their use of economic data. Not that the data itself is wrong per se, but that it tells the voter nothing of significance, thus only misleading them. After all, not everybody understands the intricacies of the specialized discipline that economics is.
For example, it’s shown that, as benefit of joining EU the Bulgarian unemployment rate has fallen to 6.2% in 2017. When observing the longer trend, however, it’s clear that the unemployment rate has been falling sharply, dropping below 6% at some point, after its peak at around 19% in the early 2000s’, to . After the financial crisis, when it rose sharply again to near 13% in 2013, it has fallen to its earlier mentioned 2017 level. Playing at their own game, what would be crucial here is the level of unemployment when Bulgaria entered the EU i.e 2007 which, according to the same logic, means that in ten years the EU helped Bulgaria slash its unemployment rate by 0.6 percentage points.
But even this analysis is incomplete, as we have to look at the labor force participation rate. This number, which has risen slightly after 2007 refers to the number of people available for work as a percentage of the total population.
Lastly, we have to look at the employment rate, an absolute number, that tells us how many people are actually working. If we compare the numbers of the year of ascension and 2017 there seems to be virtually no difference.
So what’s the big picture? By their own criteria, all things considered, joining the EU has not helped Bulgaria in this segment. (another question is whether Bulgaria could have sustained such numbers if not being part of the EU, but I will not dwell on that issue here).
Another claim is that, after joining the EU, Bulgaria’s ‘living standard’ has risen from 34% of the EU average in 2007 to 53% in 2016. As I don’t know what measure they used for ‘living standards’ I cannot further explore those numbers. Even so, the numbers provided are misleading because Bulgaria doesn’t necessarily need any growth rate to have its living standard grow compared to the EU average. Even in a scenario when the living standard is falling, but at a slower rate than the EUs average, Bulgaria will still show a relative rise in living standards compared to the EU average.
Lastly, they have shown the cumulative GDP growth of the Visegrád group after joining the EU. By doing so it seems like they’re suggesting if the Visegrád group didn’t join the EU hell would have broken lose on their economies. A classic case of dismissing that which is not seen for that which is seen.
When everything is taken into consideration it boils down to a simple cost-benefit calculation for every individual separately. We all have different values and risk aversions. Making knowledgeable voting decisions on the other hand is a costly endeavor. However, I implore you, the least you can do is not to gobble up the first piece of information politician throw into your faces.
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