3rd Jul 2022

Brussels unfreezes €115 million of EU aid for Bulgaria

The European Commission on Tuesday (12 May) unfroze €115 million in aid for Bulgaria suspended last year over Sofia's failure to properly tackle corruption.

"Today's decision is the result of extensive work by the Bulgarian authorities" and the European Commission's services, regional policy commissioner Danuta Hubner said at a press conference in Brussels.

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  • Bulgarian parliament - Bulgaria faces parliamentary elections on 5 July (Photo: EUobserver)

"It marks a positive step towards normalising the implementation of EU funds in Bulgaria," she added.

The unblocked money concerns a motorway project and technical assistance to Bulgaria for other road investment in the framework of the trans-European transport network.

The move follows "a reorganisation of the country's National Road Infrastructure Agency, aimed at ensuring it manages projects efficiently and effectively, in line with EU rules," as well as an improvement of the control systems, the commission explained.

"For Bulgaria it is a very big signal of success and it is also very clear for us that it is a big step," said Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Plugchieva in charge of overseeing how EU funds are spent.

"But we have not fulfilled all of our engagements and our homework and we have to continue with our efforts," she told journalists.

In July last year Brussels froze close to €800 million of EU money to Bulgaria over corruption and fraud concerns, out of which €220 million under the PHARE pre-accession programme - aimed at improving the country's infrastructure and institutions - were irreversibly lost in November.

Most of the remaining funds are still frozen, and Brussels has additionally withdrawn the accreditation of two government agencies charged with handling EU funds

Not a political decision

With the commission's decision coming two months before parliamentary elections in Bulgaria – scheduled for 5 July, Ms Hubner called on Sofia not to get distracted.

"It is extremely important that any elections… don't have any effect on the dynamic of implementation of the projects. We definitely need a strong commitment from everybody… that this momentum will be indeed maintained," she said.

"Nobody can afford now slowing down the whole process, after all the efforts that have been done on the Bulgarian side," she added.

The commissioner also denied speculation that Brussels' decision and its timing was in any way linked to the elections in a bid to boost confidence in the current government of Socialist Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev.

"I would like to reject very strongly this type of thinking. It has first of all nothing to do with reality, but secondly it is in fact offending us," she said.

No guarantee

For her part, Ms Plugchieva said that she expected "that our administration will be committed to continue" with the needed reforms, but added that she could give "no guarantee" about what would happen during the election period or after the elections.

"In all democratic countries in the EU, it's the same situation: when there are elections… it is not the same speed of work."

"It is a pity, but it is the reality," she said.

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