The presidents of 12 Central European countries, including Bulgaria, convened on the shores of Lake Balaton in Hungary last Friday to discuss regional cooperation as Europe struggles to unite. Seven of the participating countries, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia, are presently negotiating membership in the European Union (EU). But since not all will join the EU at once, officials are seeking ways of avoiding new economic and human barriers in Central Europe. The two non-EU negotiating countries represented were the Ukraine and Croatia, while Italy, Germany and Austria made up the EU contingent. German business leaders said it was unrealistic to expect the front-runners in the race for EU membership to be admitted by 2003.
Meanwhile, Austria's Finance Minister, Karl-Heinz Grasser, said that Vienna could exercise its veto powers to block EU decisions. The threat was made in protest over Austria's continued isolation by other EU states after Jörg Haider's Freedom Party joined the Austrian government in February. The effect, however, could be delays in reforms vital to EU expansion. Not much is expected to be resolved at the meeting, although some expect a vision for the region to emerge.
The annual meeting evolved from a 1993 quadrilateral meeting of the presidents of Austria, Germany, Hungary and the Czech Republic in Salzburg, as the quartet decided to make it an annual event and extend an invitation to other countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Bulgaria was first invited to participate at the January 1998 meeting in Levoča, Slovakia.
On the Bulgarian President's agenda are meetings with his counterparts from Croatia (Stipe Mesić), Austria (Thomas Klestil) and the Czech Republic (Václav Havel).
Japan and Bulgaria signed an agreement in Tokyo in which Japan pledged an official loan of USD 50 million to facilitate structural reform of the Bulgarian economy, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) said. The loan is part of a Japanese and World Bank co-financing scheme for Bulgaria, to which the World Bank has pledged EUR 95.5 million. The deal is a financial and enterprise sector adjustment loan (FESAL). Japan and the World Bank arranged the first FESAL plan for Bulgaria in December 1998, making this the second of its kind. To date, Japan is Bulgaria's largest creditor nation in terms of official bilateral loans.
"France will give its full support to Bulgaria in its membership talks with the EU," French Foreign Trade Secretary François Huwart said last week. Huwart said that French companies favoring EU expansion see investment potential in the Bulgarian telecommunications and energy supply sectors as Sofia gradually lifts the state monopoly on utilities. He also claimed that Bulgaria had the potential to become an EU member because more than 60 percent of its trade, amounting to USD 460 million, was with the EU.
MobilTel, Bulgaria's only GSM operator, may have its license revoked by the State Telecommunications Committee if it refuses to obey the law and cooperate with the Interior Ministry. "This is not an attack on MobilTel, but a demand that it must meet its obligations relating to the use of special surveillance methods," Interior Minister Yordanov said. "We are not talking about tapping conversations. When permission has been granted for the use of special surveillance methods, the Interior Ministry must have the technical prerequisites for doing its duty," Yordanov added. The issue was discussed with MobilTel's Vladimir Grashnov a month and a half ago, and his refusal to comply prompted the somewhat extreme step of approaching the Telecommunications Committee, Yordanov said.
Deputy Finance Minister Dimiter Radev said last Thursday that some taxes and the overall burden of taxation and social insurance would be reduced in 2001, after the Government decided to open a budget procedure for next year. A report by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy Peter Jotev on short-term measures was intended to improve the business climate and achieve sustainable economic growth, while a three-year budget program and a macroeconomic framework for 2001-2003 are to be ready and submitted for discussion by the end of May.
Franz Beckenbauer, Vice President of the German Soccer Union and Chairman of Bayern Munich, was made Honorary Doctor of the Bulgarian National Sports Academy in Sofia last Thursday.
Nadia Rozeva, 28 April 2000
Bulgarian News Agency