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Sega: “EU intends to Place us on the same Footing as Candidate Countries”

Sega Newspaper: Brussels may restore for Bulgaria the control mechanism over EU funding which is usually put into practice in the case of candidate countries, sources from the EU Parliament informed Sega. The mechanism foresees for the projects to be approved in advance by the European Commission (EC). Full members apply a different mechanism in which control is delegated to national audit and payment bodies while EC approves or disapproves of the payments after receiving the documents on the implementation of the project.

Government circles in Sofia did not know that Brussels discussed the idea off the record. However a high level member of the cabinet answered sharply to a question by reporters from Sega: "From a political point of view, that would be improper because it would mean that Bulgaria is being discriminated. I do not think we deserve this. The EU should realize that the same standards should be applied to everyone."

This week European Court of Auditors will announce its report on the implementation of 2007 EU budget. In it Bulgaria will get a low rating because it has allowed 12% irregularities in its payments. This information is based on a source who received the data from the Luxemburg based body. The irregularities average of the other EU countries is 5-6% while there are countries with hardly 2-3%. To avoid accusations of deliberate misuse of EU funding Bulgaria claims that the problems are due to insufficient administrative capacity.

This is obvious from the reports by the two EP missions which visited the country in late September and the beginning of October. The reports will be discussed on Tuesday and Wednesday. Tomorrow is the session of the Committee on Budgetary Control. Its mission has noted that "the lack of administrative capacity to inspect the projects and contracts, the turnover and the shortness of experts, the insufficient experience and skill of personnel" are an endemic problem" in Bulgaria.

However the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) thinks that EU funds in Bulgaria have also been abused by criminal groups connected to government circles. It is constantly observed whether the country is taking the due precautions in fight against organized crime and high level corruption. Last Saturday in Greece OLAF Director Franz-Herman Bruner asked for a meeting with deputy Prime Minister on EU funding Meglena Plugchieva to get the latest data on the ongoing penal procedures. After the meeting Plugchieva left for Brussels where she would attend the sessions of both Parliamentary Committees.

There is hope for a favourable development of the blocked EU funding drama, a high level government source stated last week. The preliminary external audit appointed by the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works made good impression in Brussels. On November 15th Minister Asen Gagauzov's office expects an announcement whether the Paying Agency would get its accreditation back. "The chances are not good but are improving", Sega's source said. The Paying Agency by the Ministry of Finance which was also deprived of accreditation is in a better position. An announcement from Brussels is expected on November 23rd stating whether the ISPA funds are to be unblocked. The construction of Lyulin Highway depends on the funds. Even sooner we would know the outcome for the SAPARD funds.

The grim scenario for putting Bulgaria back in "preparatory class" could be avoided if EC unblocks the rest of the pre-accession funds which amount to 825 million euro. Then a new payment mechanism would be discussed for the operational programmes with their fnds by 2013 amounting to 7 billion euro.

In its project the mission of the Parliamentary Committee of Budgetary control recommended that Bulgaria be "encouraged to continue on its way with the recent changes and reforms in the judiciary in order to significantly increase the monitoring environment and the management options on EU funds".

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