Bulgaria converging with euro zone, but still not enough: Juncker

FILE PHOTO: European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivers a speech at a conference on the EU's next long-term budget after Brexit in Brussels, Belgium, January 8, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker speaks during a news conference at a ceremony starting Bulgaria's six-month presidency of the European Union in Sofia, Bulgaria, January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
Police patrol outside the National Palace of Culture during a ceremony starting Bulgaria's six-month presidency of the European Union in Sofia, Bulgaria, January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker shows a diagram during a news conference at a ceremony starting Bulgaria's six-month presidency of the European Union in Sofia, Bulgaria, January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria, which wants to adopt the euro currency, has made genuine progress in bringing its economy closer to those of euro zone countries but has still some work to do, the head of the European Commission said on Friday.

Speaking at a ceremony starting Bulgaria's six-month presidency of the European Union, Jean-Claude Juncker praised Bulgaria's strong public finances and said all countries that meet the criteria should be able to adopt the euro.

"I did not say that Bulgaria will be automatically the next member of the euro zone, but it is heading in the right direction because ... unemployment is falling, the budgetary situation in strong, so when it comes to genuine convergence, Bulgaria has achieved progress," Juncker said.

"It is not quite enough yet and our Bulgarian friends are aware of this, but when it comes to real convergence there has been genuine progress," he said.

Bulgarian officials said on Thursday they wanted to file a formal application in the middle of this year to lock their currency in the Exchange Rate Mechanism 2 (ERM-2) -- a two-year stability test for national currencies before joining the euro.

"I am sure that Bulgaria will, or should join the ERM-2 as rapidly as possible," Juncker said.

(Reporting By Alastair Macdonald, writing by Jan Strupczewski; editing by Francesco Guarascio)

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