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UK-Bulgaria relations will not be much affected by Brexit, with the two countries having extensive bilateral work on border protection, security, education, culture and people-to-people links, said Tom Hines, Head of Political Section at the British Embassy in Sofia.

Haines made the comment during the first part of a discussion titled BREXIT – the British and Bulgarian Business Perspective organized by the British Bulgarian Business Association (BBBA).

He also underlined Britain’s commitment to improving the business climate, citing his country’s assistance to Bulgaria, by providing expertise and training, on regulatory impact assessments for legislation - a requirement recently passed by the Parliament in Sofia. 

“While the UK is leaving the EU, we are not leaving Europe… We will remain strong partners with Bulgaria,” Haines added, pointing to the doubling of UK-Bulgaria trade in the past ten years and to his country’s position as the fifth-largest investor in Bulgaria.

The UK will seek a deal with a maximum freedom on the single market which will be based on “a unique model, not that of Canada or Norway,” he has made It clear.

"Uncertainty is already affecting the business in Bulgaria,”

BBBA Chairman John Munnery noted. He added UK outsourcing is to some extent on hold until tariff issues are solved.This is “a good reason for Bulgaria to support a soft Brexit," he argued.

Businesses also want a soft Brexit as the UK imports GBP 60 B in goods more than what it exports, he emphasized.

Britain will seek to have its own laws on migration and insist the access to free market should not be tied to free movement for EU nationals, but will continue to look for seasonal workers and foreign labour. “We don't want to see the door shut to foreign workers.”

Eighty-five percent of bank managers expect no consequences of Brexit

for the Bulgarian economy, said Julian Mihov, Director of Market, Industries and Business Development at EY.

Citing the recently published EY annual banking barometer, he noted that, by contrast, around 70% of bankers from European countries believe their businesses will be affected.  

Trade, migration and regulation will be the three critical areas affected by Brexit, outlining the possible tax implications for Bulgarian businesses.

From a Bulgarian business perspective Brexit may offer lots of trade opportunities, but one has to keep in mind that many agreements will stop being active once the UK leaves the EU, he added.

While businesses doing cross-border production are currently enjoying the status quo, the change will possibly lead to the introduction of customs duties, administrative complications relating to VAT and change in the place of supply of services, alterations in excise duties and other issues. Withholding taxes will also be affective as EU directives on taxation will not be implemented anymore, and this could create complications e.g. with the payment or royalties, even though Sofia and London already have a separate double tax treaty.

Problems may arise as regards regulations of the financial sector, personal data protection and telecommunications. For example, EU data protection laws require for user data to be stored on EU-based servers, which may cause a “huge problem for the UK,” in the way the United States is experiencing it now.

Non-applicability of EU legislation might hamper access to the UK market of Bulgarian companies (those operating in the UK are primarily from the IT sector”.

Immigration issues, on the other hand, will trigger the need for work permits and visas – a problem, considering the limited number of UK visa centers, he has noted. Sectors such as gambling (with a vast UK business interest in the industry in Bulgaria) and football (with Bulgarian and other EU countries' players finding more difficulties playing in Britain) may see some repercussions.

As regards foreign direct investment, however, "[EY] does expect that Brexit potentially may increase the interest of UK businesses coming to Bulgaria."

Outsourcing activities in Bulgaria will be particularly affected

by Brexit as these cover many industries, including manufacturing, and a range of services, warned Katerina Kraeva, Partner at law firm Wolf Theiss.

She cited expectations based on her firm's analysis that business process outsourcing will account for around 6% of Bulgaria’s national output by 2024. Apart from the possible increases in customs duties and data transfer issues, uncertainty will loom as to intellectual property, a possible trend for companies to renegotiate their contracts citing Brexit, and the need for parties to make a choice of law.

More than 50 representatives of British, Bulgarian and international companies attended the event, the BBBA estimates.

It has also said it intends on organizing more discussions in the months to come.

Bulgarian Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov has spoken out against a move of the country's election authorities to declare "non-binding" a referendum on the election system of the country.

Turnout in the national poll, conducted in November, fell short of just over 12 000 votes that would have made its result obligatory.

Nearly three million people backed a switch from proportional representation voting to a "first-past-the-post systme in two rounds". They also backed a move to make it mandatory to vote both in elections and referenda (elections are already compulsory under fresh legislation) and a drastic slash in the size of state subsidies allocated to political parties per vote cast in their favour.

Tsatsarov, in a letter shown on air by an evening TV program, has thus sided with the intitiator of the referendum, musician and TV host Slavi Trifonov who earlier lashed out against election authorities.

Even though the result is not binding, the high turnout means lawmakers have to debate and vote on the three issues posed in the referendum.

Tsatsarov says that in his "personal opinion" the vote is that the minor shortfall is not good enough an excuse not to declare the referendum legally binding.

The Chief Prosecutor, however, has asserted that the final say about whether the referendum is valid or not lies with the Supreme Administrative Court (VAS) of Bulgaria.

Earlier this week, he met with Trifonov to discuss the results of the referendum.

Bugaria's state-owned electricity utility company has transferred the entire sum of its debt to Russia's Atomstroyexport owned over the Belene nuclear project, officials say.

The National Electricity Company (NEK) has paid off the amount through a transaction dated Thursday, Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova has told lawmakers at a Parliament Q&A session.

Bulgaria has thus delivered on its commitment to doing away with the entire debt of over EUR 600 M by the deadline of December 15.

According to a recent deal with Atomstroyexport, its timely move cancels nearly EUR 30 M in interest (EUR 0.167 M daily) that it would have had to pay under the arbitration ruling from June 14.

The money is owed due to Bulgaria's decision to cancel the construction of Belene nuclear power plant (NPP) in which the Rosatom subsidiary was the main partner.

In return, Bulgaria will receive reactors and nuclear equipment produced for the project and will seek to use them and build the plant as a private project and with other partners.

Rosatom has meanwhile officially confirmed it received the money.

Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Donchev has signed two MOUs on projects worth EUR 210 M under the European Economic Area (EEA)'s financial mechanism for 2014-2020.

The assistance granted by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway places Bulgaria "among the first of a total of 15 countries" signing such partnership documents on their priority projects, the government says.

The programs comprised in the documents "are complementary to measures under main priority policies for the country that are little or are not at all covered by the scope of [EU] operational programs," Donchev is quoted as saying in a cabinet press release.

"Through these agreements we boost cooperation between Norway and Bulgaria to achieve the maximum effect on a number of important policies," Tove Bruvik Westberg, Norwegian Ambassador to Romania, Bulgaria and Norway, has added.

Out of this funding, EUR 115 M will be earmarked for regional development and poverty eradication projects, but also for ones linked to energy efficienty and security, the environment and cultural entrepreneurship.

Another EUR 95.1 M - granted by Norway specifically - will be allocated to projects aimed at business innovation, small and medium enterprises, justice and internal affairs.

Separately, the civil society will be given EUR 15.5 M for monitoring and assessments of policies and the activities of the administration.

Another EUR 0.951 M are to be spent on projects aiding social dialogue and guaranteeing dignified labour conditions.

The first projects can start by the end of next year. The deadline for all projects will be April 30, 2024. Ministries and interested parties in Bulgaria will have to pitch "concepts" of all programs approved by the EEA within six months.

Right-wing Reformist Bloc coalition has said it will hand back the mandate to the Bulgarian President next week, without trying to form a new government.

If the decision is final, the RB has paved the way for an early election in Bulgaria, with two parties before it having refused to make an effort to form a new cabinet after Prime Minister Boyko Borisov resigned.

The RB will return the mandate upon receiving it on Monday, Focus News Agency quotes Nayden Zelenogorski, the co-leader of the bloc faction in Parliament as saying.

"Apparently there is no reformist majority in Parliament and we are going to elections," he has added.

On Thursday, the RB received assurances of support from the nationalist Patriotic Front (PF) coalition, but not from the biggest party in the legislature, Borisov's GERB.

Further, differences betwen the PF and the RB "could not be cleared," Zelenogorski has added.

The decision of the bloc, a loose coalition of right-wing and centrist parties, was "unanimous", he has argued.

President Rosen Plevneliev earlier this week said he would hand over the government mandate to the RB on Monday.

In the event of the bloc returning it, the head of state will have to appoint an interim government. His successor Rumen Radev, taking over on January 22, will have to call an early election.

"We are ready for elections and we are heading there," Zelenogorski has made it clear. 

Lawmakers in South Korea voted overwhelmingly to impeach President Park Geun-hye, Yonhap News Agency reports.

Park's impeachment was passed by a majority of 234, out of 300 lawmakers.

Through the vote, the President is suspended form office. The Counstitutional Court will have 180 days to review the legitimacy of the motion.

The move comes after weeks of protest against her over her alleged links to a corruption scandal.

Bulgaria is one of the fourteen EU member states from which Turkey has received data on supporters of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish daily reports.

Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) has used imams in a number of countries within and outside the EU to gather intelligence about Gülen followers and supporters, according to Hürriyet Daily News.

The total number of countries comprised by the "data collection" - thirty-eight - includes Norway and Switzerland.

From Bulgaria in particular, two reports were sent, one from the capital Sofia and another from the country's second-largest city Plovdiv.

Photos of individuals allegedly linked to Gulen's movement, which Turkey designates as a terrorist organization, were also included in Sofia of the files. It does not become immediately clear if that was the case with the two reports from Bulgaria.

Turkey blames Gülen and his movement for orchestrating the military coup attempt on July 15.

Sofia Regional Court (SRS) chair Metodi Lalov has said he will step down on Friday.

The entire leadership of Bulgaria's biggest and busiest court will follow in his lockstep on Monday, Lalov has told private bTV station's morning program.

His move comes before a protest that will be held by part of SRS judges over a decision of the country's supreme judiciary watchdog, the Supreme Judicial Council (VSS), to launch disciplinary proceedings against judge Miroslava Todorova.

He has also raised awareness of the heavy burden placed on each judge at the SRS, with 1000 court cases assigned to a single magistrate every year and with judges also due to demonstrate over the excessive number of cases. 

The fate of Miroslava Todorova has been sparking controversy for years, reviving old feuds between conflicting political sides and lobbies within the judicial system. 

Lalov has served as the court's chair since 2012.

Outgoing Defense Minister Nikolay Nenchev has expressed concern at "secret information" that Bulgaria services may have obtained by wiretapping his convesations.

He has accused the authorities responsible for "unfounded wiretapping of high-profile statesmen" of having adopted a "practice of a totalitarian past that has been denied by the Bulgarian society."

Nenchev was indicted on two charges in November on two counts, one being a deal to repair six MiG-29 fighter jet engines in Poland. In a letter to Bulgaria's Chief Prosecutor, he reports that court materials he was made familiar with show special surveillance devices were used against him as he was under investigation.

Posing six questions to Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov which, he argues, are "of substantial importance" to the functioning of democracy, he has has warned that classified information may have been intercepted by the surveillance teams.

Arguing the "public institutions systematically ignore national security", he has urged for guarantees that the information obtained through wiretapping will not be accessible to third parties, news website Dnevnik.bg quotes him as saying.

Nenchev has sought confirmation that surveillance equipment was indeed used during the investigation and also to establish the period in which he was subjected to eavesdropping.

He has also asked who processed and stored information he obtained on a daily basis from the military intelligence, the military police and several armed forces and ministerial agencies.

Bulgrian operatic soprano Sonya Yoncheva and violin virtuoso Vesko Eschkenazy are on track to get Grammy Awards in February, having been nominated in two classical music categories.

Eschkenazy, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra's concertmaster, is in the shortlist with Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5 in B-Flat Major, Op 100. Performed by his orchestra, the piece has been nominated for "Best Orchestral Performance".

Sonya Yoncheva's nomination comes for her role in Le Nozze Di Figaro ("Figaro's Wedding") where she performed alongside Thomas Hampson, Christiane Karg and Luca Pisaroni.

The Grammy Awards ceremony is due on February 12.

The nationalist Patriotic Front (PF) coalition has pledged to back a cabinet with the mandate of the Reformist Bloc (RB), the junior partner in the outgoing Bulgarian government.

The RB is due to be handed out a mandate next Monday. If it fails to form a new government and returns the mandate to the President, the county will have an interim cabinet, sliding toward early elections.

After a meeting between the RB and PF's leaderships, the latter coalition has said it would back such a cabinet in the name of "political stability".

The PF backed the outgoing administration of Prime Minister in resignation Boyko Borisov, but did not have any ministers in it.

The two alliances, however, will not be enough to form a new government and are likely to face opposition from Borisov's GERB party.

Desislava Atanasova, a GERB MP, has made it clear, quoted by Mediapool, that her party plans to keep its earlier promise and not take part in any kind of government that will be created with the mandate of another party.

Bulgaria, Slovakia and Lithuania have the chance to become centers of excellence and nuclear decommissioning experience if they manage to decommission their closed nuclear units in a timely manner and complying with the envisaged costs, a European Bank for Reconstruction Development (EBRD) official has said.

Vince Novak, Director of the Nuclear Safety Department at the EBRD, has told participants at the Central & Eastern Europe Nuclear Decommissioning and Waste Management Conference 2016 in Sofia, Bulgaria.

The conference, of which Novinite is a media partner, is being held on December 08-09.

Decommissioning offers a huge task ahead of the nuclear community and

"there is stil much room for improvement and cost efficiency in decommissioning know how,"

Mr Novak, chairing the conference panels, has noted.

The EBRD, with 65 governments and organizations listed as shareholders, is the only international financial institution with a nuclear safety mandate. Since 2001, it has included international decommissioning support funds for Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovakia.

What brings the three countries together is the fact that all are due to decommission their plants under an agreement reached between their governments and Brussels as part of their EU accession negotiations back in the 1990s and 2000s.

Bulgaria in particular shut down four (Units 1-4) of the six units of its Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), the first two in 2003 and the secound couple in 2006. Decommissioning activities are to be carried through by 2030.

In the case of Lithuania, both units of the Ignalina NPP were closed at the end of 2004 and 2009 respectively. In Slovakia, EU accession has triggered the deactivation of two reactors at V1 plant of Bohunice nuclear compund which comprises two plants (V1 and V2), each having two reactor units.

The European Commission has been working closely with their governments to meet closure commitments and support the decommissioning process, also recognizing the related exceptional social and economic efforts.

EU Commission official Gianfranco Brunetti noted that Europe is yet to face the challenge of decommissioning a bugger number of its units.

"There are 129 power reactors functioning in Europe, the same number will remain by 2025. But we have at least 12 reacotrs that have been shut down. We are in the range of units - this is not enough to provide know how," says Brunetti, Head of Sector, Decommissioning from Unit ENER D2, "Nuclear energy, nuclear waste and decommissioning" at the European Commission.

Estimates he has cited from this April's EC Nuclear Illustrative Programme (PINC) show the EU Commission

puts the cost for decommissioning over the next decades at EUR 127 B,

while waste management will take some EUR 140 B (with Bulgarian having the smallest share in the latter budget portfolio). "The data is likely to increase, because the picture is not crystal clear."

"If member states are late [in delivering on decommissioning timetables], this may lead to an infringement procedure," Brunetti has warned, adding the Commission wants to send "a clear political message that member states need to move on" and the issue "should be tackled now" and not in the decades to come.

Decommissioning in the three Eastern European countries concerned in particular has already reached a stage where it has become irreversible, resulting in more costly and dangerous to seek a reopening of the plant than to build a new one.

Nuclear energy, currently taking up 28% of member states' energy mix (with 29% now coming from renewables, 25% from solid fuels, 15% from gases and 2% from petroleum), is likely to increases its share in consumption of EU countries, with the commission having a mandate to contribute to each country's decision on how to organize the mix.

An audit carried out last year has shown that EU funding dedicated so far to decommissioning

"has not created the right incentives for timely and cost-effective decommissioning,"

according to Pekka Ulander, Senior Auditor at the European Court of Auditors.

While some progress has been made over the past years, critical challeges lie ahead for all three countries, including expected delays that may raise substantially and even multiply the decommissioning cost, he has warned.

Bulgaria's funding gap in particular amounts to EUR 28 M. Ulander has noted that Bulgaria still faces challenges such as the construction of a national disposal facility for low- and intermediate-level waste.

Bulgarian speakers on the first day of the conference have included, among others, Magda Periklieva-Gueho, Chief Inspector for decommissioning and radioactive waste management at the Bulgarian Nuclear Regulatory Agency (BNRA), and Georgi Razlozhki, Deputy Executive Director at the at the Strate Enterprise for Radioactive Waste (SE RAW).

UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova has been included in the Politico28 list of European people "shaking the world."

Topped by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, it includes at total of 28 people, one from each member state.

Bokova, currently into her second term at the helm of the UN cultural body, is called "the crusading preservationist".

"Defenders of the world's most significant cultural landmarks breathed a sign of relief when the United Nations declined to appoint her its first female secretary-general. That meant Irina Bokova, the Bulgarian head of the UN's cultural and educational body, UNESCO, would remain in her job and keep fighting to bring to justice the perpetrators of looting, desecration and destruction of cultural landmarks," her profile prepared by Politico28 reads.

Last year, Bulgarian MEP Eva Paunova made it into the prestigious ranking

There will be no merger of festive days and weekends if a holiday falls on Thursday or Tuesday, lawmakers have decided.

MPs have voted on first reading changes to Bulgaria's Labour Code that abolish the current rules under which Friday or Monday, respectively, is declared a holiday to merge it with a public holiday dated during the workweek.

For example, if May 06, the Day of St George, falls on a Thursday, Friday will not be a "day off" but a regular business day.

Under the current legislation, this would result in a "long weekend" from Thursday to Sunday, with either the previous or the next Saturday becoming a business day.

However, the new rules also envisage that if a public holiday such as St George or Christmas falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the Monday after it will also be a holiday.

Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) Governor Dimitar Radev has said it is the right time for the country to access the ERM II Mechanism, the so-called "Eurozone waiting room".

Radev has opined that Bulgaria should reassert its commitment to further financial integration with Europe "precisely in these times that both European institutions and the European project as a whole are under very strong pressure. The time is now to confirm our commitment and work for the realization," Capital weekly quotes Radev as saying at an event marking bankers' holiday.

(St Nicholas, celebrated on December 06, is marked as a festive day by sea men, those involved in the fisheries sector, and bankers alike.)

"This commitment is an easy one when it comes to words, in good times, but very hard in tough times."

Earlier, outgoing Bulgarian Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov said, when asked by a lawmaker whether it was time for the country to pursue further steps toward Eurozone integration, that Sofia will submit the demand to EU institutions when there is "external support" for them, in a reference to bigger EU member states and Brussels.

In January of last year, Goranov said the country was willing to restart talks on adopting the euro with the governments of the 19 Eurozone economies.He then argued Bulgaria should aspire to join ERM II by 2018.

Bulgaria is operating a currency board arrangement, a tight monetary policy system that pegs its lev currency to the euro at a fixed exchange rate, but is not in Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) II, the formal EU mechanism for limiting currency fluctuations. Countries must spend at least two years in ERM II before joining the euro.

Bulgaria said in September 2012 it was putting on hold its plans to adopt the euro due to the debt crisis and the double dip recession facing the eurozone, along with rising public opposition to abandoning the lev.

Since then, successive governments have been sending controversial signals as to whether the country should adopt the single European currency sooner or later.


Drivers who exceed the speed limit in Bulgaria will be subjected to a fine that makes up more than half of the country's average wage, MPs have decided.

A financial sanction of BGN 700 will be imposed on drivers whose speed goes more than 50 km/h beyond the allowed limit in urban areas.

Outside resident areas, the sum will be BGN 600 for the same violation, lawmakers have agreed while approving changes to road traffic legislation in a final reading.

For public transport vehicles or one transporting dangerous cargo, the fine will be BGN 1000 respectively.

Bulgaria's national minimum wage is BGN 420 as of the moment (and is set to rise to BGN 460 in January), while the average one is projected to surpass BGN 930 by the end of the year.

Police will be able to deregister vehicles whose owner drove under the influence or was using them without having a valid driving licenses.

Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova says she has accepted the resignation of her deputy Mariya Boyadzhiyska, who was in charge of environmental issues.

Boyadzhiyska declared she was stepping down earlier this week, on Tuesday, daily 24 Chasa quotes Fandakova as saying.

"We talked, I tried to talk her out of it, but she has personal reasons to step down."

Fandakova has argued her effort to keep her deputy in office last for two days.

Boyadzhieva's resignation follows a move by Fandakova to sack the head of the Sofia waste management facility over recent lethal accidents. 

She has worked for Sofia Municipality for ten years. Fandakova has downplayed any link between the incidents and her resignation.

Lawmakers are set to debate and vote a proposal by independent MP Velizar Enchev to change the amount of state subsidies allocated to Bulgarian parties per vote counted.

The move will come despite a Parliament decision not to change the actual amount, which is BGN 11 (EUR 5.5) per vote counted for every entity whose result is above 1% of the threshold.

In November, Bulgarians voted in a non-binding referendum to reduce subsidies to BGN 1 and ever since, pressure has been mounting on MPs to heed the public's call.

MPs agreed to include the item into the agenda by an overwhelming majority of 117 votes "yes" and 8 "no", with seventeen abstentions. The "yes" majority makes up almost half of all lawmakers in the 240-set Parliament.

Enchev has also been known for some eccentric proposals, namely the idea to allow the use of cannabis for medicla purposes.

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev's Chief of Staff is the most likely option to take over as interim Prime Minister if a caretaker cabinet is to be formed later in December, local media report.

Rosen Kozhuharov, who heads the presidential administration, is "the only one who agreed to be Prime Minister only during Christmas," the news website Mediapool.bg quotes its own sources as saying.

Any interim cabinet appointed by the President may remain in office just until January 22, when Rumen Radev takes over as head of state and will have the right to make reshuffles or compose his own caretaker government.

"There is no way for Plevneliev to lure anyone for just a month. This is why, when it comes to appointing a cabinet, he will resort to his team of advisers," sources familiar with the issue say.

However, other sources cite the remaining uncertainty over whether Plevneliev will appoint a cabinet for a month or will stick to another plan under which Boyko Borisov will remain as Prime Minister until January 22, despite having resigned in mid-November.

An interim cabinet will have to be created if the Reformist Bloc fails to form a government within the current legislature after being handed the mandate by Plevneliev next week. 

The Bulgarian government has urged the European Commission draft a plan it would apply if Turkey decided to fulfill it threat to open the gates to migrants, Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov has said.

"We have called on the Commission to begin work on Plan B if the rhetoric gains any real dimension," Mitov is heard telling repoters on footage aired by the Bulgarian National Television.

Mitov's words come after he participated in a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Wednesday.

"We hope this will not be the case, but our policies cannot hinge om hope alone," Mitov argues.

Earlier, the President of Turkey argued the country would put an end to the migrant deal with the EU if no financial assistance for refugees was disbursed by Brussels and if Ankara was not granted a visa waiver in compliance with the deal.


The Bulgarian government has approved a loan agreement with the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB) that will allow co-funding of projects implemented under EU programs.

The EUR 200 M loan will boost the absorption of EU funding by partly reimbursing the Bulgarian contribution to the funding of investment projects realized in the country.

It will be in force with regard to projects carried out under several operational programs, namely Regions in Growth, Human Resource Development and Science, Education and Intelligent Growth.

CEB will not assign any fees or commission, the cabinet says.

Organized criminal gangs from Northwestern Bulgaria are increasingly "specialized" in people smuggling, local authorities say.

Groups in the poorest region of Bulgaria (and the EU) lead migrants down barely accessible routes through villages and remote areas that are difficult to reach by using regular vehicles, the head of the police department in Vidin has told the Bulgarian National Radio.

They seek to "evade police checks done by us and border police," Yanko Yankolov has explained in an interview with the public broadcaster.

Migrants are normally left to spend the night in derelict buildings (a common sight across the region) and headed to the border with Serbia on the day after.

Some of them make several attempts to cross but are always detained, he says. "Their goal is Western Europe, since they have relatives there and people waiting for them, their relatives are also there. They will try until they succeed."

Most come from Afghanistan and are registered with the State Agency for Refugees.

Until the spring, migrants crossing Bulgaria would normally use the western border to enter Serbia and from there had to Hungary, Austria and Germany.

However, Belgrade stepped up border controls and criticized Sofia for lax security at the common frontier over the past months.

Bulgaria has spent nearly a quarter of a billion BGN on border security measures since 2014, official figures show.

Measures including equipment and staff deployment are worth some BGN 75.32 M, Interior Minister Rumyana Bachvarova has said in a written reply to an information request cited by daily newspaper Sega.

Combined with the BGN 170 M spent so far on the fence being built along the border with Turkey, the total figure nears BGN 245 M, but does not include the EUR 160 M (BGN 320 M) package agreed and partly disbursed by the European Commission.

"Maintenance and current expenditures" make up the vast part of the cost of measures (the fence not included), at BGN 58.5 M. Staff expenses amount to BGN 15.5 M.

Despite the amount of funding spent on border security, numbers call into question its efficiency.

Since year began, 4526 migrants have been detained while trying to cross into Bulgaria from Turkey.

Migrants arrested on the territory of Bulgaria after having crossed, however, were 17 977 for the same period.

On Wednesday, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov told reporters that some EUR 100 in emergency funding from the EU (or nearly two-thirds of the package) have already been transferred to government accounts.  

Bulgaria's government has inked the memorandum on tourism cooperation signed the institutions of the two countries in October.

The MoU is aimed at securing "sustainable development of the sector while considering local traditions and social values," the cabinet has said.

The two countries have confirmed the government-level commitment to expand ties between their tourism sectors "as a precondition for the creation of a favourable environment for deepening and making more active the bilateral cooperation in the field of tourism."

The MoU was signed on October 05 between the Bulgarian Tourism Ministry and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage.

The Bulgarian government has approved Bulgaria's accession into the European Public Law Organization.

Founded in Athens in 2007 and having 16 members as of the moment, the organization says it is decicated to "the creation and dissemination of knowledge in the area of Public Law... and Governance, including buyt not limited to, inter alia, national, comparative and European public law, human rights law and environmental law and the promotion of European values and democratic institutions."

The country "hopes to gain expertise in the field of law and expert assistance with regard of the forthcoming presidency of the Council of the European Union," the cabinet has said in a statement.

Joining the organization involves no financial commitment.

Bulgaria will assume the rotating Council of the EU Presidency for a six-month period on January 01, 2018.

Bulgarian President-elect Rumen Radev will not have any role in forming an interim government together with incumbent Rosen Plevneliev, the socialists' leader has said.

Radev was elected in November with the backing of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). The latter's chair, Korneliya Ninova, turned down an option to form a new government within the current legislature earlier on Wednesday.

The President-elect himself did not immediately comment on Ninova's words.

In November, however, he initially agreed to take part in a joint effort to form a caretaker cabinet if political parties failed to create a new parliamentary majority after Boyko Borisov stepped down as Prime Minister.

He later backtracked, saying such a move would be out of the scope of his term which begins on January 22.

The opening of the Northern Lights Film Festival's eighth edition is due in the Bulgarian capital Sofia on December 07, Wednesday, organizers say.

Renowned Finnish producer, director and writer Mika Kaurismäki's Homecoming (2015) will be the first movie within the program.

It will be screen at 19:00 at Cinema House on Wednesdsay.

The festival will run through December 18, offering films from Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.

Tickets are at BGN 8. Discount tickets for students and pensioners are worth BGN 6.

Apart from Cinema House, G8 Cultural Center and Euro Cinema will host many of the screenings.

The entire program is available here. [BG].

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev will give the Reformist Bloc (RB) coalition a chance to form a cabinet next Monday, December 11, his press office has said.

The ceremony will take place at the Presidency at 11:00.

The RB, a loose coalition of centrist and right-wing parties, will be the third parliamentary force to get a government mandate in a last-ditch effort to lead the country out of a political crisis.

Last week Plevneliev said he would go for the RB once both main parties in the country, GERB and the BSP, had returned the mandate.

The RB already indicated it would try to form a new parliamentary majority, launching political consultations on Tuesday. Boyko Borisov's conservative GERB party to whom Reformists were the junior partner in the outgoing government, had said it would not begin discussing names of potential ministers unless the President granted the coalition an opportunity to form a new administration.

Wednesday's announcement followed a decision by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), the second-largest party in Parliament, to return the mandate without trying to form a government.

Bulgaria has been going through political uncertainty since Borisov stepped down as Prime Minister in November.

If the RB fails to secure a big enough majority (consisting of parties and coalitions represented by at least 121 lawmakers), the country will head to an early election for the third time in less than four years.

Bulgaria has to do more than overhaul school curricula and to talk about changing methods of teaching, the country's national coordinator for the PISA study has said.

Her comments follow the publication of last year's figures for the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a worldwide study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The study [PDF] showed Bulgarian ninth-graders' level of functional literacy was much below the OECD average.

Some 41.5% of these have shown difficulties in understanding the meaning of texts. Those below levels of functional literacy in maths amount to 42% of participants. As regards science, the share of low performers was 37.9%.

As many as 6363 ninth-graders (aged 15-16) from 180 schools were involved in the study carried out on May 14-15, 2015.

Bulgarian participants scored 446 in science, 431 in reading, and 441 in mathematics.

OECD's average levels were 493, 493 and 490 respectively. For top performer Singapore, the figures were 556, 535 and 564. The top EU performer, Estonia, scored 534, 519 and 520.

The worst results were those of the Dominican Republic - 332 in science, 358 in reading, and 328 in maths.

On average, the share of low achievers in all three subjects is 29.6%, much bigger than the OECD's average of 13%, Singapore's 4.8% and Estonia's 4.7%.

As regards top performers in at least one subject. Bulgaria's result was 6.9%, compared to the OECD's average of 15.3%. Singapore's result was 39.1% and Estonia's measured 20.4%. At the bottom of the table, the Dominican Republic had 0.1%.

The result of Bulgaria ranks it 45th, out of 72 countries where the study took place.

Teaching lessons as lectures will not teach [students] critical thinking,” Petrova has told Focus Radio's weekly education program.

She has singled out Estonia's achievements in improving the system and helping it improve its standing substantially, leaving long-time EU leader Finald behind. “We should focus on what changes our colleagues in Estonia did to achieve this success,” she has argued, also placing emphasis on Finland's performance in access to education.

Each task given to students in the PISA test consists of a problem that has to be solved through planning a path of steps.

Critial thinking, logical thinking are skills sought [in the test], things that unfortunately are not being targeted,” Petrova has argued.

Asked whether Bulgaria's government supports top performance among school students, she has insisted the country needs to consider such steps.

She has also criticized the lack of proper approach to communicating science the way this is being done in the West and elsewhere. “We still have the understanding that the less clearly we introduce information, the more scientific and adequate it is.”

On Tuesday, outgoing Education Minister Meglena Kuneva said that, although the PISA results were alarming, they showed improvement compared to 2006 and a mixed record (deterioration in reading and improvement in maths) compared to 2011.

Her deputy, Diyan Stamatov, on Wednesday blamed teaching methods, but also the increasing use of Facebook among children which makes them "read less and chat more".

There are three potential investors in abandoned Belene nuclear power plant (NPP) project, outgoing Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova said on Wednesday.

Petkova told the Bulgarian National Radio the real investment interest would only be measured through a privatization procedure.

Earlier this week, she met representatives of China's state-owned nuclear company to discuss the project.

Bulgaria is to pay hundreds of thousands of EUR to Russian company Atomstroyexport, a Rosatom subsidiary, after losing an arbitration suit in June. Sofia abandoned the construction of Belene NPP several years back, as Atomstroyexport had already produced part of the equipment needed for the plant, but now considers reviving the project by involving other investors.  

On Tuesday, the Energy Ministry granted NEK the EUR 601.617 M financial assistance it needs to pay off the debt assigned under the arbitration ruling.

Earlier, the EU Commission gave the green light for the sum to be transferred, saying it did not consider it to be tantamount to state aid.

Atomstroyexport will not demand the payment of any interest if the sum is fully paid by December 15.

After delivering, Bulgaria would receive the reactors and other equipment manufactured by Atomstroyexport for the Belene NPP, Petkov told the BNR.

For the moment, the reactors will be stored at the Belene construction site.

Ludogorets Razgrad has ended its participation in the Champions League after playing against Paris Saint-Germain in the French capital.

Through the tie, the Bulgarian football club has secured a point that allows it to play in the UEFA Europa League next year.

The other factor that has helped it qualify is the defeat of Arsenal over Basel with 4:1. Basel was the team vying with Ludogorets for the place in Europa League.

Misidjan and Wanderson scored for Ludogorets in the 15th and 69th minute respectively.

The Bulgarian club had a one-point edge for an hour until Cavani of PSG scored in the 61st minute, and Di María kicked into the goal two minutes into the extra time.

At three points, Ludogorets is left third in Group A, while PSG gets 12 points and the second place.

The result also means Arsenal wins Group A, with the team thanking Ludogorets for the tie that gave it an edge over PSG.

The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) has handed back the mandate to form a new government and lead the country out of the current Parliamentary crisis.

"I will not use the opportunity [to form a cabinet," Ninova has said before handing out a statement to Plevneliev to confirm the decision.

Ninova is accompanied by two core BSP members, Angel Naydenov and Zhelyo Boychev.

The party would name Ninova herself as the Prime Minister candidate if the BSP decided to form a govenrment.

Plevneliev has also invited a BSP delegation to stay at the presidency for brief talks on the political situation.

Korneliya Ninova, who heads Bulgaria's second-largest political force, met President Rosen Plevneliev at his office at 10:00 local time (EET). It took her less than a minute to return the mandate.

Her party had repeatedly said it will return the mandate, paving the way for an early election.

The President may now hand the mandate to one more party or coalition of his own choice, among those represented in Parliament.

So far he has voiced his preference for the Reformist Bloc (RB) coalition, following days of speculation whether he would choose the Patriotic Front, a nationalist alliance.

After three parliamentary forces fail to form a new cabinet within the current legislature, the President will have to appoint an interim government. His successor Rumen Radev will dissolve Parliament (Plevneliev is not entitled to this towards the end of his term) and call an early election.

Another widely discussed option involves keeping the outgoing government of Boyko Borisov in office until Radev takes over on January 22, instead of appointing an interim cabinet that may remain in office just a few weeks (with Radev having the right to make changes or appoint a new caretaker administration that will organize the election).

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