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Bulgaria and the EU

Bulgaria joined the European Union in January 2007 along with its neighbour Romania. As the poorest country in the EU, with the average monthly salary amounting to a mere 400 lv. Bulgaria desperately needs inward investment to develop its infrastructure and to make it competitive with other more developed nations.

Unfortunately, Bulgaria has incurred a lot of scrutiny from the European Commission over the way funds have been distributed. Michael Leigh, the EU Commissioner recently sent a stern letter to the Bulgarian government, which chastised the country's failure to tackle organized crime and stated that there was evidence to prove that corrupt forces had been at work within certain Ministries as far as the spending of EU aid was concerned.

The Misuse of EU Funds

In light of this, the funding of projects by both the Finance Ministry and the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works were suspended pending inquiries, which could result in the Ministries having to pay back some of the funds should the EU find that funds cannot be accounted for in a proper manner.

Financial irregularities of around 33 million Euros worth of agricultural funding and 15 million Euros of SAPARD aid have already been acknowledged, but there are also other irregularities including those associated with border control, which are liable to endanger Bulgaria’s entry into the borderless Schengen zone. The European Commission noted its concern at the fact that Bulgaria had failed to solve 150 mafia killings, which have been under investigation since the fall of the communist regime and Leigh recommended that Ministers responsible for those departments under investigation should be sacked.

The EU is in the process of tightening their reins on Bulgaria’s spending by implementing a highly developed software system known as Lotar. This system monitors provides Brussels directly with information about all public tenders and the allotment of finances. Foreign specialists will also be employed within Bulgaria to supervise and tutor public agencies in EU law and funding. This is a sure sign that the EU is insistant upon Bulgaria towing the line which is good news for the future.


The Five Year Investment Programme

Whilst this temporary halting of some funds is, in part, bad news for the country, it does not mean that all EU funding has been suspended, in fact the EU plan to continue with their programme of giving Bulgaria 11,113 billion Euros between 2007 and 2013.

The key areas targeted to receive this funding are the water system, which will give foreign water companies and consultancies opportunities to operate in Bulgaria and end the water shortages that exist in so many towns and villages as well as creating a uniform drainage system. Funds will also be spent on improving the environment and this area includes improvements to the disposal of waste, which should result in less fly tipping and roadside waste. Improving the transport system has also been given priority status, which will mean fewer potholes, more motorways and a reliable train network as well as better airport facilities and more flights.

Bulgaria is also trying to double its compensation from the untimely closure of the Kozloduy power plant. Four nuclear reactors were closed down and the EU has already allotted 550 million Euros to cover the cost of this, however, government ministers argue that this figure is not enough.


Spending EU Funds

Bulgaria is heavily reliant on tourist revenue to further its economy and more than half of the EU’s aid is allotted to improving and growing this sector. The country’s beach and ski resorts will receive money to develop their infrastructures and facilities, whilst airports across the country will be upgraded to handle greater volumes of passengers as well as providing them with better facilities like parking. The government will also introduce more training centres to ensure that resort personnel are better able to serve the growing influx of foreign tourists. There are also plans afoot for a University of Tourism.

Most Bulgarian villages do not have any form of sewerage or drainage facilities and this problem has dogged the country for decades. However, 25% of EU aid will now be allotted to improving the standard of water, sewerage and drainage. The aim is to provide the total population with main sewerage services and a reliable and constant stream of water all year round. Waste water will also be disposed of in an environmentally friendly fashion.

Most first-time visitors to Bulgaria are amazed at the number of stray dogs and cats, which wander towns, cities and villages in search of food and shelter. These animals cause huge issues in terms of tourism and safety. The European Commission has urged Bulgaria to allot funds to deal with this issue to set up a sterilization programme and some form of rescue service akin to that found in the West. Many villages have now instituted local laws to penalize people who do not keep domestic animals within their own property or who do not keep them on a leash when out walking.

Anyone who has visited a Bulgarian hospital or doctor’s surgery will know how desperately the health care system needs funding. Whilst the quality of medical care is excellent, the buildings are antiquated and so is a lot of the basic equipment like wheelchairs and hospital beds. However, all of this is set to change because 12% of EU funding has been allocated to improving the health care system. The EU has advised Bulgaria to spend a percentage of this money on increasing the wages of doctors and nurses working over 42 hours a week, improving emergency services with more up-to-date equipment, which will enable them to react more effectively at an accident scene and on advanced training for young doctors and nurses.