One of the more recent EU member states has very high levels of hostility towards gay people, a survey has revealed.

Bulgaria, one of the poorest countries on the continent, joined the European Union in January, but social attitudes do not appear to be developing as quickly as the economy.

According to the Novinite news agency, research conducted by Skala agency in September found that only 17 percent of Bulgarians “can freely communicate with gay people.”

The survey into discrimination found that 80 percent of people in Bulgaria had a “negative attitude” towards gay people and 53 percent had an “extremely negative” attitude.

70% of people would not let their child be taught in a school with a gay teacher and nearly 50% would not want a gay co-worker.

Eighteen years after the fall of Communism, the citizens of Romania and Bulgaria celebrated becoming members of the exclusive Euro club on January 1st 2007.

Gay rights in Bulgaria have progressed rapidly in recent years, although acceptance is still confined to major cities.

The promise of membership of the EU has hastened the pace of social reform in the two nations, to the extent that gay and lesbian Romanians and Bulgarians have some of the most comprehensive rights in Europe.

In Bulgaria anti-discrimination laws have been in place since 2003, and homosexuality was decriminalised in the late 1960s, as in the UK.

The age of consent was equalised in 2002 and all discrimination in law was abolished that year.