After months of discussions, lots of controversies and endless arguments between Bulgarian political opponents the final distribution of the billions under the European programmes until 2020 has been done. On 7 August, the European Commission approved a partnership agreement with Bulgaria, according to which the country will have more than 10 billion euro to distribute over the next six years. Whether the actions of Brussels are related to the change of power in the country can only be a case to speculate on, but the fact is that none of the former rulers expected this to happen so soon. The new composition of the European Commission has not yet fully been formed and practically the institution does not work now, so the decision on the approving the agreement was apparently made earlier and for some reason its announcement was delayed. Either way, the end result is important and that the actual work on the new operational programmes can start.
Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn said: “Today we have passed an important strategic investment plan that brings Bulgaria on the path to jobs and growth for the next 10 years. Partnership Agreement will help the Bulgarians to feel the benefits of these investments in the form of an improved quality of life. According to the new cohesion policy our investments should be strategically focused on the real economy, sustainable growth and people. But the quality not the speed is the main goal. That is why in the coming months we will be focused entirely on the negotiations for achieving optimal results from the European structural and investment funds in the period 2014 – 2020. All parties need to commit themselves to ensure the creation of high-quality programmes.”
Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion L?szl? Andor also congratulated Bulgaria. According to him, from 2014 up until 2020 Sofia will have about 1.5 billion euros from the European Social Fund, which is 20% more than in the previous period. “I am very happy that the country decided 30% of the Structural Funds to be for social projects. Previously Bulgaria actively used the EU tools so that one in seven Bulgarians felt the direct aid. European Social Fund will remain the main instrument for funding the fight against youth unemployment, to support the most deprived people on the labour market, to achieve greater consistency between vocational education and the training needs of the labour market, measures to address poverty and social exclusion of the Roma minority and measures to increase efficiency and quality of public administration and the judiciary,” added Mr. Andor.
In practice, under the seven operational programmes Bulgaria will be able to absorb more than 7.4 billion euros. The amount is by 750 million euros higher than that of the previous programming period (2007 to 2013) which shows that the apocalyptic statements of the former Deputy Prime Minister Zinaida Zlatanova for drastically truncated EU budget plan for Bulgaria were just a cheap political joke. In her desire to blame her predecessors she even claimed that the country will have only 6.257 billion euros for the period by 2020. The Cabinet reached even to the point that in the draft form of the Partnership Agreement with the EU in August 2013, it was namely this amount that was allocated between programmes. Behind this “cut” of money today we can see only a stupid trick – from the total amount were deducted the funds for technical assistance and legal reserve and the inflation allowance was simply ignored. As a result, several months were lost in the negotiations with Brussels and the absorbing of the long-awaited billions will be able to start at the beginning of 2015. In other words, 2014 will be a zero year for Bulgaria. And who needed all this? Mrs. Zlatanova did not win anything, but only exposed her lack of competence and her predecessors did not lose their face in the eyes of the general public…
As for the distribution of money for infrastructure projects, Brussels earmarked about 4.46 billion euros, which is almost as much as during the previous programming period. The difference is that this time, priority will be the investing in the railway sector, while road construction is in the background. Overall, the money under the programmes “Transport” and “Regions of Growth” were reduced by 21 million and 40 million euros and the budget of “Environment” OP was increased by 39 million euros.
The remaining 2.96 billion euros of the total amount will be spent on administration, business, education, employment and innovation. The amount is by 779 million euros higher compared to the previous period, mostly because of the new “Science and Education” OP, with a budget of 596 million euros. Significant increase was done for the money on “Innovation and Competitiveness” – there project will have 194 million euros more than in the previous period. More money will be go for officials – instead of 202 million euros they get 285 million euros. At the same time the means of human resource development are reduced by 94 million euros.
Beyond these amounts, the cross-border cooperation will be able to count on 165 million euros and food for the poor will have 104 million euros. Six regions in Bulgaria (except Sofia) will be entitled to get 75 million euros from the fund “Youth Employment”.
The programme for rural areas, however, would again be the “richest” one. Even after cutting 300 million euros because of the low budget under the common agricultural policy for all 28 member states, it still will have 2.34 billion euros. Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Dacian Ciolos believes that EU funding will help increase the competitiveness of Bulgarian agriculture, including restructuring of agriculture and support for more balanced and environmentally friendly agricultural practices. “I am confident that today we signed a partnership agreement that shows how Bulgaria will spend wisely and effectively these funds in the coming years, striving for the optimal balance between price and quality and responding to urgent priorities. Bulgaria is largely agricultural country, agriculture and food industries have a large share in its GDP,” said Ciolos.
Another 88 million euros have been earmarked for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs. According to Commissioner Maria Damanaki these funds, albeit by 18 million euros less than in the previous programming period, will be invested in reducing the impact of fishing activities on the marine environment, and will support small businesses in the aquaculture and processing and contribute to local economic development in fisheries-dependent areas.
This does not exhaust everything Bulgaria is to get from the European Union by 2020. Judging by the most optimistic forecasts, Sofia can gain about 400 million euros from the new instrument “Connected Europe”, which is outside the operational programmes. This fund can finance projects such as the modernization of the railway line Vidin – Medkovets, the improvement of the navigation in the joint Bulgarian-Romanian section of the Danube, and the railway connection between the ports of Ruse and Varna. The completion and upgrade of gas interconnection with Greece, Serbia and Turkey could also be financed through “Connected Europe”. What the public needs to know, however, that not a single euro in this initiative has been specifically reserved for Bulgaria. The country will compete for the money on a par with its neighbours and only well prepared and filed within the deadlines projects will be in position to win. Meanwhile, however, irrespective of how much the country manages to get from the Fund, it will have to pay a certain fee to fill in its budget.