EU'S STAND ON KOZLODOUI N-PLANT STAYS UNALTERED
Dimitris Kourkoulas, Head of the Delegation of the EC to Bulgaria, to the BANKER weeklyYour Excellency, unfortunately the expansion of the European Union, planned to take place in the end of this year, does not include Bulgaria. Is it possible that Bulgaria and Romania fail to become EU members even in 2006?- I don't think there is such a risk for Bulgaria and Romania, which will not be able to conclude the negotiations until the end of 2002. The expansion to the east has already started and will not finish with the integration of the ten new members. Bulgaria and Romania will not be left outside the Community just because someone else has been accepted before them. I understand the fears that a greater number of member-countries may lead to more administrative problems in case of further expansion, but these fears are groundless. If Bulgaria continues to make the same efforts for its integration, the EU will keep its promises and the process will come to a successful end.The Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha declared the Government's willingness to specify a date for Bulgaria's integration to the EU. Do you think this is possible?- Both the Bulgarian authorities and the people want to hear a concrete date and I can understand that. However, it is still early to talk about fixed terms. Let's wait until October 16 when the European Commission will publish its annual report on the progress that Bulgaria has made. The Commission will also present a new schedule for negotiations with Bulgaria. Only then shall we be able to discuss concrete dates. I am an optimist that you will soon be accepted to the European Union, because as I've already said the process is irreversible. I can assure you that the European Commission is quite impressed by the progress your country has made in the recent months. But as I've already pointed out on several occasions, the integration is not just the process of opening and closing negotiation chapters - most of all it is a successful application of the European legislation. Bulgaria still has to make improvements in this direction.Bulgaria was promised additional financial support in the final documents of the EC Summit in Laeken. Can we rely on increased support under the PHARE, ISPA and SAPARD programmes?- It's true that additional financial support for Bulgaria was planned at the meeting in the end of last year. I think the real problem is whether the applying countries are able to utilize the funds efficiently. If Bulgaria proves to have a good administrative capacity for successful use of the financial support under these programmes, amounting to some 3% of the national gross domestic product, or EUR300MN a year, it may also receive additional support. We should not forget that this is money paid by the European tax-payers. That is why the European Commission must be sure it is used in the most efficient, transparent and honest way.Could the European Commission change its opinion about the terms in which units III and IV of the Kozlodoui Nuclear Power Station have to be decommissioned?- First of all, I would like to note that the EC appreciates the fact that the Bulgarian Government is ready to clsoe down reactors I and II by end-2002. As far as the decommissioning of the other two units is concerned, we have a very clear stand. We are about to begin negotiations with the Bulgarian side about the exact year in which the two reactors will stop operations. We think this should be done in 2006. Our position is not based on political reasons but on our concern about the safety of the N-plant.The agreement signed by the Bulgarian Ministry of Finance and Crown Agents caused a lot of discussions in Bulgaria. Could it be a reason for a delay in the negotiations on the Customs Union chapter?- I am aware of the debates that are being led because of the agreement with Crown Agents. In principle, the European Commission does not oppose to the search for additional support to the customs reforms. However, in order to complete this chapter Bulgaria will need to prove that it has an efficiently operating, transparent and well-organized customs administration.According to the European Commission, it is important that the measures, stipulated by the agreement with Crown Agents, neither contradict nor coincide with the projects under the PHARE programme.Do you think there is anything alarming in the provisions of the agreement between Bulgaria and Crown Agents?- The provisions themselves do not show whether our technological support coincides to some extent with the recommendations of the British consultants. The Brussels experts are now investigating the report on the condition of Bulgaria's customs, prepared by Crown Agents. However, the British project is still in its initial phase and it is difficult to make any final conclusions. The European Commission will wait to see the specific recommendations of the British company before presenting an opinion on a possible coincidence between the support that we offer and the actions of Crown Agents. The Ministry of Finance assured us that the agreement could be changed if that was really necessary.