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24th Feb 2020

Bulgaria may lose EU funds over organised crime

EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn has signalled that Bulgaria could see a suspension of millions of euros in EU aid over persistent shortcomings in the fight against organised crime, in what could be the first ever such move by Brussels' against a member state.

The European Commission is preparing a monitoring report on the southeast Balkan country to be published early July, as part of the close scrutiny that both Bulgaria and Romania are undergoing for not meeting EU legal standards before joining the bloc in 2007.

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  • Bulgaria on alert for possible EU funds freeze (Photo: European Commission)

Speaking at a seminar in Brussels on Thursday (30 May), Mr Rehn said that the issue of insufficient measures introduced by Sofia to root out corruption and organised crime will feature high in the forthcoming evaluation.

"We will have to deal with the question of EU funds - European taxpayers' money...with the question as to whether there are such endemic problems that they merit a possible suspension of EU funds," he said, according to Reuters.

"I don't want to jump the gun now," he added. "We are currently preparing these reports."

The comment came after earlier speculation in Bulgarian media that the commission is preparing a freeze on EU funds to Sofia, or at least a delay in the publication of the monitoring report.

A spokesperson for the EU executive has refused to comment, saying "No one can foresee what the contents of the report are going to be before it is written and approved," the Sofia News Agency reported.

Earlier this week, Alain Lammasoure, a French centre-right MEP close to president Nicolas Sarkozy, told Bulgarian National Radio that Bulgaria has not convinced its European partners that is has sufficient safeguards in place to prevent misuse of EU money.

"We need guarantees that the money from EU funds is spent properly and of benefit to Bulgarian citizens and investments in the country, and that they are not diverted as a result of corruption and bad rulings. We do not have such guarantees and we need them as soon as possible," Mr Lamassoure said.

According to press reports, the centre-left government of Sergey Stanishev is facing criticism for not achieving better co-ordination of both anti-corruption agencies and the payment systems that manage EU funds.

Not a single high-level case of corruption has resulted in a successful conviction in recent years, even as EU officials in the country claim corruption reaches the highest levels of government.

Bulgaria has been allocated €6.9 billion in European funds for the 2007 to 2012 period, which it hopes to use mainly for developing infrastructure, boosting employment and improving good governance.

The European Commission already froze pre-accession funds to Bulgaria in February due to concerns over possible fraud cases.

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