BULGARIA'S EU PRE-ACCESSION PROGRESS PRAISED BY MICHAEL LEIGH
Michael Leigh, EU Chief Negotiator with Bulgaria, praised the country for its progress in fulfilling the criteria for membership in the European Union. On Tuesday (March 19) Mr. Leigh and Dimitris Kourkoulas, Head of the Delegation of the EU to Bulgaria, held a meeting with Foreign Minister Solomon Passy and Bulgaria's Chief Negotiator with the EU Meglena Kouneva. Michael Leigh pointed Bulgaria's good progress in the preparation for EU membership. He also urged that the pace of negotiations is kept up. Michael Leigh is in Sofia to participate in the Wilton Park Conference Enlarging the European Union.In front of journalists Michael Leigh said that the EU was impressed by the strategies for combating corruption and reforming the court system, worked out by the Bulgarian Government. According to him, this will have a positive effect on the appraisal which the European Commission will give Bulgaria in its annual report in October 2002.Possibilities for adapting Bulgaria's pre-accession programme to the new map, a schedule on its negotiations with the EU, were discussed by Mr. Leigh and Foreign Minister Passy as well. The discussions on drawing up the schedule are due to be held in Brussels at the end of the year. The new schedule for the negotiation process will help the country in its preparation for EU entry and its adoption will be accompanied by financial aid grant, Michael Leigh added. Commenting on the Financial Ministry's contract with the British company Crown Agents, Michael Leigh said he respected Bulgaria's desire to attract qualified consultants to the local customs. He underlined that the consultancy of the British company should be compatible with the financial aid which the EU grants for reforms in the Bulgarian customs under the PHARE programme. He stressed that so far the EU has no objections to the way the EU funds are absorbed in Bulgaria.