EU Releases Bulgaria Road Aid

The European Commission unblocked €115 million in road aid for Bulgaria Tuesday that it had blocked last year over corruption in one of the European Union’s newest states. “Today’s decision is the result of extensive work by the Bulgarian authorities and my services,” said EU regional development commissioner Danuta Huebner in a statement. “It marks a positive step towards normalizing the implementation of EU funds in Bulgaria.”

The money is part of the several hundred million of euros that the Commission, the executive arm of the EU, froze in 2008 over various corruption scandals. Revelations that the former executive director of Bulgaria’s road fund had funneled millions to a company controlled by his younger brother prompted the Commission to freeze the country’s road infrastructure money. The EU’s anti-fraud office later reported that Bulgaria had also misused some €32 million in EU farm projects money. The report described a “criminal network” of more than 50 Bulgarian and foreign-based firms, centered on two businessmen with alleged ties to top Bulgarian politicians. The EC froze a further €500 million in July 2008.

Bulgarian officials carried out several audits of the roads agency, and the Commission ruled that the agency had been overhauled to operate according to EU rules. The unfrozen money will pay for highway construction near Sofia and pay for technical support for preparing further road projects.

Stanishev Notes EU’s Attention

Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said the money’s release showed that the EU was paying attention to Bulgarian anti-corruption efforts.

“The EC’s decision shows that the Bulgarian government’s efforts to combat problems and irregularities in EU funds’ absorption have been appreciated,” Stanishev said. “This is not the end of our efforts but just a step forward.”

The news came just in time for Stanishev’s Socialist-led government, which was accused last year of incompetence in fighting corruption and organized crime. Parliamentary elections are slated for July 5.

--Beth Kampschror