Bulgaria To Lose in Negotiations on EU Programmes 2014-2020?

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The cherished 15 billion euros that Bulgaria should receive from the EU by the end of 2020 are at stake due to the political collapse of the country from the recent days. The principal negotiating of the money is already happening, but in the months ahead lie the hardest and most important negotiations with Brussels, which actually should protect the amount requested. A lack of functioning Parliament, the emerging war between the parties and the public focus shift may very well help the process to fail.

Another serious problem is that the Minister responsible for EU funds Tomislav Donchev resigned without deputies and no administration to continue the work. Relying on officials in the Ministry of Finance is ridiculous as they deal primarily with numbers, not with projects and policies. On top of that, a wide public and political discussion of future operational programmes, without a working Cabinet and National Assembly is just not going to happen.

Already in 2012 the government of Boyko Borisov took steps to prepare the necessary documents so that this year the partnership agreement with the European Union may be approved. This was extremely useful move that can allow Bulgaria to start spending money on new EU budget yet in 2014. Time was not enough, though, for having everything to be signed and now the good intentions are just hanging in the air. The question of the adoption of a law on the management of EU funds is still pending and approval should be sought for making corrections to other legislation, that is necessary before signing the partnership contract.

In practice, the European Commission is expected to discuss specific proposals of our country for the new programming period in March. Sofia should say, and what commitments it will take for the absorption of the money in the next seven years. Its is clear that Brussels will hardly accept such commitments to long-term goals from an interim minister. It is very likely that the negotiations may not take place, at least until the next elections. This will not create much of a problem if the new Council of Ministers is formed before the end of May and immediately flies to Brussels to negotiate and meet with the European Commissioners, but any further delay would be fatal, as the deadline for preparation of the partnership agreement expires in June. In addition to any general talks until June the money needs to clearly be distributed between highways, railways, water, municipal, human resources, innovation, competitiveness, science and education, etc. The state needs to set out the main projects in the operational programs that we want to accomplish in the new programme period. The biggest so far that are known are Hemus and Struma highways, and the third line of the underground in Sofia, but whether they will actually be included in the plan will depend on the new negotiators.

The next government will have to conduct political negotiations in the Common Agricultural Policy after 2014.

If the states waits for the election and then the new power decides to deal with all these important things, there is a real danger that the country may get everything wrong with the European programmes. But Sofia is unlikely to succeed if all relevant and to a large extent fateful decisions are taken by the caretaker government, to be appointed by the President Rosen Plevneliev. In the first case Bulgaria will have legitimate representatives, but the negotiation process may already be closed. The second one, means that the country will take part in the meetings, but due to the lack of political weight, it will hardly be able to defend its own interests. In any case, failure is guaranteed if we do not send the right people in Brussels. The new ministers may be great experts, but are not familiar with the principles of EU fund distribution. This applies mainly to imported from abroad professionals whose names are already in the public domain and are rumoured to be appointed prime minister and finance minister. That is why the National Association of Municipalities said it was better if current deputy ministers that have resigned to be included in the interim government, as they are aware of all the EU rules and projects. Of course, we can look for other ways out of the crisis, but it is beyond doubt that at the head of state institutions now must be specialists who are familiar with the processes in Brussels.

The BANKER

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