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BULGARIA TO GET EUR15MN BONUS FROM PHARE

Bulgaria will get a EUR15MN bonus from the European Union (EU) under the National 2004 PHARE Programme, Finance Minister Milen Velchev (who is also national coordinator of the EU money) said at a press conference. The amount will be practically the third one, coming from Brussels this year under the PHARE Programme. The first one, totalling EUR15.8MN was intended for projects, planned on an annual basis (i.e. their financing is reconsidered each 12 month). The main document under the 2004 PHARE was for EUR144.3MN, intended for the 2004-2006 period. In Mr. Velchev's words, the generosity shown by the EU by granting the additional money bespeaks unambiguously about the good work of Bulgaria's administration. EUR2MN of the new EUR15MN will be spent on a pilot project for building two regional centres (one in Northern and one in Southern Bulgaria) for treatment of cardiovascular ailments. Another EUR6MN will be utilized within the framework of the country's preparation for participation in the EU's INTERREG 3 Programme. The Parliament's decision as of end-July, by which the deputies obliged Premier Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to present them a report projecting measures for better utilization of money from the EU funds, turned out to be a good occasion for an assessment of what has been done so far under the PHARE and ISPA programme. The report was drafted by the Management of EU Funds Department with the Finance Ministry. It shows that the greatest amount of money was utilized under the 2000 PHARE. From the EUR106.14MN, promised to Bulgaria by the European Commission four years ago, EUR98.6MN, or almost 80% has alrеady been allocated. This percentage may even go up, as the term for payment of these funds elapses in the end of 2004. Principally, the procedures under PHARE project a 24-month period for signing contracts with the firms that will be implementing the projects. Afterwards the candidate-countries have another 12 months at their disposal to effect payments. If this is not done, the money goes back to the EU budget. However, Bulgaria has succeeded to negotiate an extension of the 2000 PHARE term by one year. Only 51.64% of the money under the 2001 programme has been utilized. A total of EUR112.32 has been earmarked, of which EUR51.6MN has been spent, although projects worth EUR90.5MN have been agreed. EUR127.6MN was intended for Bulgaria in 2002, of which only EUR16.7MN has been allocated. Tenders for the projects from the National 2004 Programme are yet to be invited. Despite the prevailing public opinion that the utilization of ISPA funds is very poor, Finance Ministry insiders think otherwise. Mr. Velchev defined as promising the statistics that as of July 2004 Bulgaria had agreed 20.04% of the EUR615MN, earmarked for infrastructural and environmental projects. Currently, 12 of all the 25 approved projects are being implemented. As positive examples Mr. Velchev pointed to the rehabilitation of the road sections Kazanluk-Stara Zagora, Sliven-Bourgas-Varna, Vidin-Montana, and the repairs of the Hemus motorway. The Finance Minister voiced his satisfaction with the progress of the electrification of the Plovdiv-Svilengrad Railway line. In the beginning of 2004 ISPA's Monitoring Committee gave a green light to another two Bulgarian projects.

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