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Bulgaria expects to receive BGN 700M in funding under the EU’s Operational Programme Environment by the end of the year, caretaker Environment Minister Svetlana Zhekova has said.

The sum comprises delayed and suspended payments as well as new payments processed over the past two months, Zhekova told Darik radio station on Saturday.

The announcement comes several days after Iliyana Tsanova, caretaker Deputy Prime Minister in charge of EU funds, said the European Commission will unblock frozen payments to Bulgaria under OP Environment within two weeks.

With Bulgaria having passed the entire cycle of auditing of 239 projects underOperational Programme Environment by the Commission, the  government is now confident the EU executive body will put disbursement of the funds high on its agenda, Zhekova added.

She estimated financial corrections of some BGN 150M on OP Environment imposed by the Commission as a reasonable assessment of irregularities in procurement procedures.

Bulgaria won’t lose the funding included in the correction as it will be able to reallocate the money to other viable projects under OP Environment. Those projects are to be completed by the end of October 2015 and could be paid for in 2016, Zhekova said.

The Commission froze over EUR 900M in EU funding under OP Environment in November 2013 due to flawed public procurement procedures. In a bid to achieve the unblocking of frozen payments,  Bulgaria’s caretaker government approved the proposal of the European Commission for financial corrections amounting to BGN 152.92M

 

Russia has cut gas deliveries to Serbia by 28% over the past week, Serbia’s Energy Minister Aleksandar Antic has said.

He attributed the cut to a drop in gas supplies by Russia’s Gazprom Export to all other countries receiving gas via the Ukraine transit route and Serbia’s debt for past deliveries totalling USD 224M.

According to Antic, Serbia has received 3.2 million cubic meters of gas from Russia over the past week, instead of 4.5 million cubic meters per day.

“In any scenario, Serbia has no reason to worry, and we will have no problems concerning the gas supply, as we have a stable long-term contract with Gazprom, as well as domestic supplies and additional quantities stored in Banatski Dvor,” Tanjug news agency quoted Antic as saying.

Antic said that he would meet with Russian partners next week to discuss debt rescheduling, adding that the first tranche of USD 100M could be paid by the end of 2014.

Serbian daily Danas reported earlier that Russia has decided to cut gas supplies to Serbia after Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic refused to sign a protocol for the repayment of USD 200M in Serbia's debt for past Russian gas deliveries during the recent visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Belgrade.

According to unnamed sources quoted by Danas, Vucic had refused to sign guarantees that Serbia will repay the entire debt by March 2015 because he believed  Russia is already making a huge profit in Serbia via NIS”.

Russia’s Gazprom Neft acquired 51% of Serbia’s oil monopoly NIS for EUR 400M in 2008. The Serbian government has since argued Russia benefited from the deal much more than Serbia and has hinted it would seek to revise it, something Moscow has ruled out.

"We have partner relations with Russia," Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister Zorana Ivanovic told the N1 channel . "We are prepared to pay USD 100M swiftly, but we must work like partners and talk every day."

Serbia relies mostly on supplies from Russia via Ukraine and Hungary to meet its gas needs.The country’s Banatski Dvor underground gas storage has been filled to its capacity of 450 million cubic meters - enough to meet household demand for about three months.

Fears of a rise in migrant deaths at sea have increased as a Mediterranean coastal mission by the EU formally replaces  a much wider search and rescue operation by Italy on Saturday.

Operation Triton based in Italian waters has only one-third of the budget of Italy’s naval rescue operation Mare Nostrum off the coast of Libya it is going to replace.

According to some experts, reduced funding for Triton will make it harder for the EU to rescue migrants often risking their lives at sea, trying to reach Italy in unseaworthy boats, the BBC said.

Italy, which began its Mare Nostrum operation last year after more than 300 migrants drowned while trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa, has rescued more than 150,000 at sea during the operation.

While the Italian Navy had a monthly budget of EUR 9.5M for Mare Nostrum, Operation Triton, which will be run by the EU border control agency Frontex, will be able to spend only EUR 2.9M a month, Italy's Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said on Friday.

Much more importantly, however, Triton’s operating area will be limited to 30 nautical miles from the Italian coast, whereas ships and aircraft involved in Mare Nostrum conducted proactive search and rescue across 27,000 square miles of open sea to save migrants in distress. 

The European Commission has said 21 EU member states have promised to take part in Triton that will have a staff of 65 and four airplanes, one helicopter and six patrol boats to search for migrants in distress near its coasts.An increase in Triton's budget in 2015 will need the approval of the European Parliament and EU governments, the Commission has said.

Italy deployed deployed five ships, including two frigates with helicopter landing pads, an amphibious ship with a crew of 180 and two patrol vessels, as well as drones in its Mare Nostrum operation.

With its long, meandering coastline and numerous islands,Italy isthe European country most exposed to the wave of migrants from Africa and the Middle East trying to flee poverty and wars in their countries and reach Europe. The boot-shaped country leads Europe in migrant arrivals by sea, which surged nine-fold year-on-year in the first quarter of this year.

 

 

 

Bulgaria’s state-owned National Electric Company (NEK) has reported a loss of BGN 425 M for the first nine months of 2014.

NEK’s loss has increased by 275,2% year-on-year, according to a financial report of the company, as cited by econ.bg.

At the end of June 2014, NEK reported a loss of BGN 250 M.

NEK says that the power price hikes introduced on July 1 and October 1 will not suffice to stabilize the company.

NEK blames the poor results on the pricing policy of the State Commission for Energy and Water Regulation (DKEVR), the obligation to buy larger quantities of expensive electricity, and the increasing number of consumers switching to the free market.

“In the first nine months of 2014, the company keeps functioning against the backdrop of unfavorable pricing and economic conditions, at the same time absorbing all financial drawbacks and shouldering the entire commercial risk on the electricity market,” NEK states.

The 21.6% year-on-year decrease in the output of hydropower plants has also contributed to the poor condition of the company.

According to the report, Bulgaria is plagued by a surplus of electricity and hydropower plants are unnecessary.

NEK reports a 4% year-on-year decrease in purchases of electricity.

NEK informs that the surplus of electricity forces it to pay a higher price to US-owned thermal power plants AES-3C Maritza East 1 EOOD and Contour Global Maritsa East 3.

In the case of a surplus of electricity, when the two TPPs are not functioning, NEK is obliged to pay them for their availability.

According to the financial report of NEK, the purchase of electricity produced by the Kozloduy nuclear power plant, which is cheaper, drops by 21.8%.

As a result, the price of electricity on the regulated market increases, causing the number of companies switching to the free market to jump by 75% on the year.

 

The refugee center in the western village of Kovachevtsi will be closed, according to Nikolay Chirpanliev, Chair of Bulgaria’s State Agency for Refugees.

In an interview for Presa daily, Chirpanliev says that the authorities will have to move some 100 people, who currently live there, to other centers.

Chirpanliev explains the decision with the unbearable heating bills amounting to tens of thousands of leva.

In his words, the site, built before 1989, is difficult to heat, with 3-4 people sleeping on an area of 90 square meters.

He admits that the tensions over the protest of locals against refugee children attending classes at a school in the locality are also among the reasons behind the decision to close the refugee center.

The closure of the site by October 31 was requested by Kovatchevtsi Mayor Vasil Stanimirov and municipal councilors several months ago.

In a few months’ time, three leading outsourcing firms will open offices in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv.

Representatives of Scale Focus, 60К and UNIFY announced at a conference titled “Outsourcing Destination Bulgaria” in Plovdiv on Friday that they had picked the city due to the combination of universities, affordable office rental rates, and the support of the municipal authorities for the launch of their businesses.

60K said it was planning to open an office in Plovdiv in the beginning of 2015 with a staff of 100, with plans to increase the headcount to 150-200 by end-2015, , according to mediapool.bg.

Stefan Stoyanov, Deputy Mayor of Plovdiv, suggested that the demographic indicators, the strategic geographic location, the high quality of life, and the well-developed educational system made Plovdiv the second most attractive investment hub in Bulgaria for IT and business process outsourcing.

He claimed that the fact that Plovdiv had won the title European Capital of Culture 2019 made it even more attractive for investors.

The participants in the forum discussed the difficulties which outsourcing companies in Bulgaria were facing, including the lack of skilled employees, and the ensuing need for educational reform.

The participants in the event agreed on the need to boost cooperation in the sphere of project development and to attract university lecturers with experience in the sphere of industry.

They also exchanged views on opportunities for retraining and hiring foreign employees, as well as proposals for changes to high school programs.

The conference was organized by the Plovdiv Municipality and Industry Watch in cooperation with the Bulgarian Outsourcing Association, the InvestBulgaria Agency, the ICT Cluster Plovdiv and the Bulgarian Association of Software Companies.

Stoyan Mavrodiev, Chair of Bulgaria’s Financial Supervision Commission (FSC), met with Vitor Constancio, Vice-President of the European Central Bank (ECB) during a working visit to Frankfurt.

The FSC, a member of the Financial Stability Advisory Council and the European Systemic Risk Board (ESRB), sought the meeting as part of its efforts to help maintain financial stability in Bulgaria and find an optimal solution to the crisis involving Corporate Commercial Bank (KTB, Corpbank).

Bulgaria’s Corporate Commercial Bank was placed under conservatorship by the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) in June after a bank run. The bank has been closed since then, with depositors having no access to their money, despite the statutory guarantee for bank deposits of up to EUR 100 000.

During Thursday’s meeting with Mavrodiev, Constancio emphasized that cases such as KTB required swift and efficient solutions in order to allow depositors to access their guaranteed funds, at the same time preserving people’s trust in the financial system and the banking system in particular and minimizing the negative effect on the economy in the long term.

Constancio made clear that the ECB was ready to provide expert assistance for the preparation of amendments to banking laws in the case of a request from Bulgaria and the achievement of political consensus on the necessity of such measures.

Mavrodiev suggested that Bulgaria was supposed to treat its accession to the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) and the Eurozone as a strategic national priority.

He claimed that the fulfillment of this goal would help maintain financial stability and ensure greater protection of Bulgaria’s economy against turmoil.

Thursday’s meeting was also attended by Vladimir Savov from the FSC, according to reports of the Bulgarian National Radio.

The Sofia City Court acquitted Asen Genov and Tsvetelina Sarbinska, accused of hooliganism for painting the monument in front of the Bulgarian Socialist Party offices in Sofia last November.

As a part of the anti-government protests in 2013 Genov, a blogger and active participant in the protests, and Sarbinska reportedly painted the monument, depicting communist partisans, in pink and purple and wrote “WHO? BCP – DISGRACE”. WHO? being one of the popular slogans of the protests and BCP referring to the old name of BSP – Bulgarian Communist Party.

Genov and Sarbinska were arrested and charged with hooliganism.

Judge Miroslava Todorva ruled that the painting of the monument and the writing of the slogans was a form of expression of political opinion and pointed out that such acts were protected both by Bulgaria's Constitution and the European Human Rights Convention.

“Expression of political opinion is highly protected because it is one of the foundations of democratic society and one of the main conditions for its furthering,” Todorova wrote in her motives.

Todorova also noted that the prosecution could not prove beyond reasonable doubt that it was indeed Genov and Sarbinska who painted the monument, as at the time and place were present another two persons.

Genov and Sarbinska did not admit to painting the monument, but said they were assuming the political responsibility.

Macedonia’s Transport Minister Mile Janakieski expects the Bulgaria-Macedonia rail line to start functioning in 2022.

The transport ministers of Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Albania participated Friday in a conference held in Sofia.

The participants in Friday’s event made clear that the first stage of the rail line from Kumanovo to Belyakovtsi was being built, while the construction of the second stretch to Kriva Palanka and the third section to Gyueshevo was to start in 2015 and 2017, respectively, according to reports of the Bulgarian National Television.

The three countries will apply for EU funding for the finalization of the Trans-European Corridor 8.

Albanian Transport Minister Edmond Haxhinasto announced that Trans-European Corridor 8 was essential for the country, especially for its ports.

Haxhinasto said that Albania was striving to not lag behind Macedonia in the work on the project.

The three ministers agreed to set up a working group and to elect a coordinator of the joint project and to organize a trilateral meeting of the transport ministers on an annual basis.

The Flydubai low cost airline starts flights between of Sofia airport and the Dubai International airport twice a week, according to the winter timetable of the Sofia Airport.

The flights will operate on Wednesdays and Sundays.

Overall, in the winter period (October 26 – March 28) from the two terminals of the Sofia airport daily will depart flights to 41 destinations across the world and Bulgaria's Varna and Burgas.

Most preferred destinations, with most flights, remain Vienna, London, Frankfurt, Munich and Bucharest.

Romania’s Social Democrat Prime Minister Victor Ponta leads in opinion polls ahead of the first round of presidential elections on November 2.

According to a CSCI poll conducted from October 27 to October 29,the 42-year-old prime minister is expected to garner 40% support, while his main opponent, Liberal Party head Klaus Iohannis, will get 29%.

An October 23 survey by IRES polling agency showed Ponta is set to win 43%of the vote in the first round to Iohannis’ 30 percent, while an October 2-8 survey by INSCOP showed a 10-point lead for Ponta over Iohannis.

The surveys suggest a run-off between Ponta and Iohannis on November 16, which Ponta is expected to win with 55% of the vote, according to the CSCI survey.

Incumbent President Traian Basescu, who will step down in december after 10 years in office because he can’t run for a third five-year term, has accused Ponta of being a former spy -  a charge Ponta has dismissed as a lie.

A total of 14 candidates are running for president, including former Regional Development Minister Elena Udrea backed by Basescu and former Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu, who have 8% and 6% percent support, respectively.

Ponta’s popularity seems not to have been badly eroded by corruption investigations of senior Social Democratic Party members. His election pledges include tax cuts, pension hikes, good relations with both the EU and China and even a referendum on the restoration of monarchy.

In Romania, the president wields great powers and the influence of the post goes far beyond ceremonial duties. The head of state names top prosecutors, ambassadors and the heads of Romania’s two main intelligence agencies and is in charge of defence and foreign policy.

 

 

The construction of the two new bridges Silistra – Calarasi and Nikopol – Turnu Magurele will start by 2017, according to Bulgaria’s caretaker Transport Minister Nikolina Angelkova.

Angelkova explained Friday that the deadlines had been included in the bilateral memorandum on building two new bridges over the Danube.

She made clear that in the case of a decision to only build a road bridge, it would be implemented in 2019.

Angelkova, as cited by the BGNES news agency, declared that the first sitting of the Bulgaria-Romania working group would be held next week.

She said that the authorities were working on the application form for the funding for the design under the Bulgaria-Romania cross-border co-operation program 2014-2020.

Angelkova informed that the activities were to be wrapped up in two years for the two bridges, adding that opportunities for public-private partnership were being examined.

There are two bridges connecting Bulgaria and Romania at present. Danube Bridge Ruse – Giurgiu was launched in 1954, while Danube Bridge Vidin – Calafat was inaugurated in 2013.

Germany has introduced a road toll which requires foreign car drivers to pay up to EUR 130 a year for using the country’s motorways.

The new fee, which will is scheduled to take effect in 2016, aims to secure funds for the maintenance of transport infrastructure, according to reports of EurActiv.

The fee will vary depending on the cylinder capacity and environmental compatibility of the vehicle, the maximum amount being EUR 130 a year.

Foreign drivers will be able to pay a 10-day toll of EUR 10 or a 2-month toll for EUR 22.

The newly approved toll may still be revoked over its incompatibility with EU law provisions prohibiting discrimination against foreign motorists.

 

The archaeological excavations at the Perperikon site in south eastern Bulgaria will continue next year, the head of the archaeological team Nikolay Ovcharov told journalists, quoted by BTA.

This season the team studied the buildings' reconstruction pattern from the Antiquity through the Middle Ages.

According to Ovcharov, his team found a series of representative buildings, the mausoleum of an Ottoman military commander, buried with his horse and more than 600 coins from different periods, a silver cross and jewelry.

Next year the excavations will focus on completing the eastern side of the town's acropolis.

The Sofia History Museum will host the first European Heritage Days in Bulgaria.

The festival starts on October 31 in Sofia's Central Bath building, which houses the Sofia History Museum, and is co-organised by Institut Francais. It will run till November 2.

It will consist of guided tours of Sofia landmarks – parks, gardens and buildings that are usually closed for the general public, such as banks, private residences and state buildings. The exhibitions, lectures, conferences and movie screenings will be taking place in the Institut Francais and the Sofia History Museum.

The free guided tours will start at 10 AM and 2 PM on November 1 and 2. of The tour of the Largo will start in front of the drinking fountain under the columns of the Central Department Store (TZUM), the tour of the former royal palace and the surrounding area – at the entrance of the National Art Gallery, of the “yellow brick road” - in front of the Sofia Information Centre in the underpass of the Sofia University metro station and the tour of the Borisova Gradina – in front of the Bulbank office at Eagle's Bridge (Orlov Most).

According to the organisers of the tours, the groups will be up to 25 people, but if there are many interested, the tours will continue through next week.

The European Heritage Days is a locally-led initiative which provides access to thousands of rarely opened sites and unique events to over 20 million people every year.

The initiative, which provides opportunities ranging from guided tours to open-air performances, takes place across Europe every year, usually in September, and is organised around a special theme, varying from country to country.

It is a joint initiative managed by the European Commission and the Council of Europe, in close coordination with national coordinators.

Conservative GERB has renounced its proposal for legislative amendments that could restore troubled Corporate Commercial Bank (KTB) back to health.

The center-right party had submitted a draft bill under which Bulgaria's central bank BNB would have to save banks that have reported negative equity.

GERB is the biggest party in Parliament with 84 out of 240 MPs.

It first announced the idea in Parliament during this week's first sitting of a temporary committee chaired by GERB's Menda Stoyanova and set up to work toward a decision on KTB.

On Friday, however, Stoyanova said her party was making a step back.

The original idea of this draft piece of legislation was to prepare "in the short term... amendments to the Credit Institutions Act which could transpose texts from the EU [Deposits Guarantee Schemes] Directive, with our obligation having a deadline until December 31," the website dnevnik.bg quoted her as saying.

Conservatives had previously insisted KTB should not be saved with state money.

Now it is backtracking after, in Stoyanova's words, the offer of "potential investors" proposing to contribute to Corpbank's recovery is "not serious".

On Friday, a consortium of investors submitted a proposal to participate inject BGN 2.3 B in KTB, but authorities are yet to respond.

GERB, on the other hand, will not renounce its proposal to speed up the Directive's transposition (until November 6, and not until June as it is now envisaged) to ensure that depositors at KTB have access to their savings.

GERB leader Boyko Borisov told journalists in Parliament he might return the government mandate next Wednesday, if no agreement is reached.

“As of today I am not optimistic about the government negotiations,” Borisov said, quoted by Dnevnik.bg. “Yesterday's option is not abandoned, but this is our tenth meeting already. And at every meeting we agree to have consultations and have a final decision at our next meeting. At the next meeting we don't agree on anything, because we need more consultations.”

Borisov added that by Monday the GERB negotiation team must make a decision. “If we don't reach an agreement, we take the mandate, return it on Wednesday and hold new elections,” he said. “I am not optimistic about the RB messages. Yesterday I phoned Radan Kanev to ask him to compare notes on KTB, but he told me he will call me back, after he talks with Meglena Kuneva and didn't call me back.”

The statement comes a day after GERB and the Reformist Bloc (RB) expressed their readiness to form a minority government, supported by the nationalist Patriotic Front and the left-wing party of ex-President Georgi Parvanov, ABV.

“ABV is inclined to support a GERB-RB government on important themes,” the chairperson of the ABV Parliamentary group Ivaylo Kalfin told journalists on Friday. “We are not for a centre-right government, but we would support such government on certain themes of mutual agreement.”

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Friday said a controversial draft bill to tax Internet traffic will be scrapped following mass protests.

"This tax in its current form cannot be introduced because the government wanted to extend a telecommunications tax, but the people see an Internet tax," Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Radio Kossuth on Friday.

"If the people not only dislike something but also consider it unreasonable then it should not be done...”.

Tens of thousands of Hungarians rallied in the streets of Budapest this week to protest the plan which they see as an attemptby Orban’s right-wing governmentto curb public debate by limiting access to information it doesn’t control. Protests were also held in six other cities.

The government has denied the tax was devised to inhibit access to information, saying it is an extension of an existing tax on telephones which takes into account the increasing share of communication exchanged online. It also said the tax was needed to cut budget deficit currently equivalent to 80% of GDP and balance Hungary’s 2015 budget.

The European Commission has condemned the plan to tax Internet data traffic, saying it could threaten the freedom of expression.

The government initially set the levy – the world’s first - at HUF 150 (EUR 0,50) per gigabyte but after the protests began it decided to cap the tax at HUF 700 per month for individuals and 5,000 forints for companies. The change, however, failed to appease the protesters.

Orban also said the government would hold a nationwide consultation on Internet regulation, starting in January 2015.

 

 

The extension of Sofia's red line will reach the airport in April 2015, said Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova who inspected the construction process.

The inspection established that the work was 72% complete and the metro station at the airport will be finished by end of November.

“This metro station will be the first impression of Sofia for those who land at the airport,” Fandakova said, quoted by Mediapool.bg. “But it is most important that the fast and convenient public transport to reach the airport.”

According to Fandakova, the other extension of the red line, to the business park in the Mladost 4 district, is 60% complete, but the traffic along the “Aleksander Malinov” boulevard would most likely be restored by November 20.

Austria will support Bulgaria in its commitment to reform, the country's President Heinz Fischer made clear on Friday while meeting caretaker PM Georgi Bliznashki.

Austria's head of state arrived in Bulgaria on Thursday to mark the 135th anniversary since the two countries established diplomatic relations.

Fischer voiced his confidence that the excellent cooperation between Bulgaria and Austria within the EU will continue.

The Austrian President however pointed out that Bulgaria needed to do more in fighting corruption and legal security.

Interim Prime Minister Georgi Bliznashki said he and Fischer were sending a message of humility to politicians.

Speaking of bilateral relations, he placed emphasis on cooperation in the fields of education, science and culture, which was "of particular importance" to Bulgaria alongside investment.

He reminded that 1996 investment from Austria was at approximately EUR 6 B and trade turnover was nearly EUR 1 B.

Bliznashki asserted a new Bulgarian government would be formed by November 10.

A Bulgaria-Austria business forum is to take place on Friday and to be attended by over 50 Austrian representatives who flew with Fischer to Sofia.

An international consortium has proposed to Bulgarian authorities to invest BGN 2.3B in troubled Corporate Commercial Bank (Corpbank or KTB), carateker Finance Minister Rumen Porozhanov said on Friday.

Speaking on bTV channel, Porozhanov said the proposal of State General Reserve Fund of Oman, Vienna-based EPIC Group and GemCorp Capital LLP was submitted to Bulgaria’s government, finance ministry and central bank late on Thursday.  

“We’ll discuss it today,” Porozhanov said.

Vera Ahundova, an economist representing a group of KTB depositors who’ve had their money blocked in the bank since June, told bTV the consortium was proposing to have 50% ownership of KTB after its investment, with the other half to be held by the Bulgarian state.

According to a fascimile of the proposal available on the website of Bulgaria's central bank BNB, the consortium said it expects the Bulgarian government to contribute up to BGN 2.3B in cash through the Bulgarian Development Bank or another institution as a capital injection into KTB. 

The potential investors estimate the value of KTB’s assets and loan collaterals at more than BGN 9.8B, Ahundova explained, adding that the bank could turn to profit in 2-3 years.

According to Porozhanov, the proposal represents the consortium’s idea of a recovery plan but it needs to be complemented by clear guarantees regarding the resources they intend to invest to prove their commitment.

On Friday morning, Bulgarian lawmakers started discussing an audit report submitted to the central bank last week which suggests the central bank expects KTB to report negative equity capital, a condition for revoking its license within 20 days and starting repayment of state-guaranteed deposits in KTB of up to EUR 100,000 each.

The audit report on the state of Bulgaria’s fourth-largest lender, which was put under conservatorship by the BNB on June 20 following a deposits run, was prepared by AFA OOD, Deloitte Bulgaria OOD and Ernst & Young Audit OOD. 

The report pointed to impairment charges of BGN 4.222B on assets of BGN 6.662B at KTB as of end-September, the central bank said earlier.

 

Bulgaria has regressed in the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention  enforcement, a new report by Transparency International has shown.

“Fifteen years after the Convention entered into force, there are still 22 countries with Little or No Enforcement and eight countries with only Limited Enforcement. As a result, the Convention’s fundamental goal of creating a corruption-free level playing field for global trade is still far from being achieved,” Transparency International said in its Progress Report 2014 .

The OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, adopted in 1997, requires each signatory country to make foreign bribery a crime for which individuals and enterprises are responsible.

The performance of each country is assessed according to the number of new investigations it has launched and moved them forward to court proceedings.

In its tenth annual progress report on OECD Anti-Bribery Convention enforcement released last week Transparency International said there are ‘a few improvements’ that can be reported, but the performance of the majority of the countries that agree to combat foreign bribery in international business transactions is ‘far from satisfactory’.

Canada and New Zealand are the only countries to have improved since 2013, while Bulgaria and Denmark have both dropped from the ‘Limited Enforcement’ to the ‘Little or No Enforcement’ category.

The classification of other countries has not changed.

The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention is a key instrument for curbing the export of corruption globally because the 41 countries that had signed it account for about two-thirds of world exports and nearly 90% of total foreign direct investment outflows, the report said.

Germany, Switzerland, the UK and the US, which together are responsible for 23.1% of world exports, are ranked in the ‘Active Enforcement’ category.

A total of 22 countries, which between them represent 27% of world exports, are in the ‘Little or No Enforcement’ group. Besides Bulgaria and Denmark, other countries in that category include Japan South Korea, Russia, Ireland, Poland, Turkey, the Czech Republic, Greece, Slovenia  and Estonia.

 

Bulgarian lawmakers are discussing amendments to the 2014 budget and two documents about the situation at Corporate Commercial Bank (KTB) on Friday.

Interim Prime Minister Georgi Bliznashki submitted earlier this week a proposal to the newly-convened Parliament to update the State Budget of the Republic of Bulgaria Act.

The draft envisages a budget deficit reaching 4% of Bulgaria's GDP to ensure all ministries and other institutions will be able to service their current payments.

It could also include additional funds for the Deposits Insurance Fund (DIF) which should be used to restore the savings of depositors at KTB, which have been unable to access their assets since this summer.

The biggest party GERB insists a deficit below 4 percent would be dangerous and would freeze activity at some ministries.

In July the previous legislature failed to overhaul the budget amid brawls between parties seeking to distance themselves from each other.

As for KTB, which has been under conservatorship of the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) since mid-June, MPs are to discuss the central bank's report submitted Monday which suggests the BNB expects KTB to report negative equity, a prerequisite for revoking its license within 20 days in order to start paying deposits up to EUR 100 000.

However, an interim budget committee in Parliament presided by GERB's Menda Stoyanova dismissed on Wednesday the report of BNB, preparing its own draft project to save KTB and approving amendments to the Credit Institutions Act under which the BNB will have to save banks reporting negative equity.

The central bank for its part believes such a move will impose a heavy burden on the state by forcing it into saving the bank with its own funds.

Stoyanova told the Bulgarian National Radio on Thursday GERB would propose that the BNB hand within three days its estimate on the macroeconomic effect of a prospective move to declare KTB insolvent.

She explained the proposal with a possible intervention of "an investor" willing to pump EUR 1 B into the bank.

Left-wing Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (ABV)'s Ivaylo Kalfin believes the BNB should be given the opportunity to deliver within thirty days two separate analyses on the aftermath of both options - recovery or failure.


Austrian energy concern Verbund is selling its wind park at Bulgaria's Black Sea coast, the concern said in a statement Thursday.

A subsidiary of the Bulgarian financial company called Inovent Holding AD is to purchase the wind turbines.

The park's turbines have a total power of about 16 MW, producing electricity for 14 000 households.

Both companies have agreed to remain silent about the price tag.

Their transaction is expected to be closed by the end of this year.

Verbund is thus pulling out of the Bulgarian market after opting to leave those of Italy and France.

The company said in it statement its moves are part of a shift in strategy to focus on Austria and Germany, its core markets.

At the same time the company has long considered its business in Bulgaria and Romania unprofitable due to low whosale prices of energy sunk to EUR 7.2 M in Q3, from the previous EUR 62.4 M.

Bulgaria's President Rosen Plevneliev is to hold consultations with the left-wing ABV and ultra-nationalist Ataka on Friday.

Under Bulgaria's Constitution, presidential consultations with all parliamentary parties are a prerequisite for handing to a Prime Minister candidate from the biggest party the mandate to form a government.

In this particular case talks have been extended since Plevneliev has taken into consideration the demand of all political parties, which he met at the Presidency on October 15, to have separate talks with each of them.

The head of state is receiving parties in reverse order starting with the one that has the smallest number of MPs in Parliament.

Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (ABV) and Ataka, which came eighth in the October 5 elections with a result slightly below ABV, have 11 MP seats each.

Ataka's leader Volen Siderov has declared it will not attend the consultations after calling them "a PR event of President Plevneliev".

Plevneliev will discuss the present political situation in Bulgaria with two parties every day. 

As soon as Ukraine transfers the first chunk of debt worth USD 1.4 B, Russia will renew gas deliveries, Economy Minister Alexander Novak says.

At a meeting held in Brussels with officials from the outgoing EU Commission, Russia and Ukraine, the two countries' ministers signed an agreement setting the final price of supplies, set to gradually decrease over the next year.

Ukrainian utility Naftogaz will have to pay USD 378 per 1000 cubic meters of gas until end-2014 and USD 365 until March, 2015.

Prices for the same volume was earlier envisaged to drop to USD 285. But Russian news agency RIA says Gazprom will take into consideration the price of oil to set one for gas in 2015.

A source told AFP news agency that Ukrainians "had enough money" to pay off their debt. At the same time Ukraine's Energy Minister Yuriy Prodan announced Kiev would make transfers from an aid fund already set up with the help of foreign contributors, and not directly with EU intervention.

Ukraine will now have to transfer USD 1.451 B in November and the flow of gas will instantly continue, Novak asserted. The next tranche of USD 1.6 B is due until end-December.

Paying off the USD 3.1 B within the next two months will be a prerequisite if Ukraine wants to have stable gas deliveries in January.

Kiev and Moscow have been locked in a gas dispute since this spring, with the former refusing to pay off debts to Gazprom. In June the Russian energy concern introduced prepayment for gas deliveries and halted supplies.

 

 

 

Sweden on Thursday became the first EU member state in Western Europe to recognise the Palestinian state.

While the Palestinians welcomed Stockholm’s move, Israel summoned its ambassador to Sweden for consultations to express its disappointment.

The recognition was "an important step that confirms the Palestinians' right to self-determination", Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said in a statement published in Swedish daily  Dagens Nyheter.

"We hope that this will show the way for others," she added.

Wallstrom saidthe recognition aims to back moderate factions among the Palestinians, bring greater equality in future negotiations with Israel and give young Palestinians hope of a peaceful solution to the decades-old conflict.

"The aim of Sweden's recognition is to help reach the goal of Israel and Palestine co-existing side by side in peace,"Wallstrom said.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hailed Sweden’s decision.

“All countries of the world that are still hesitant to recognise our right to an independent Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, [should] follow Sweden’s lead,” a spokesman for Abbas quoted him as saying.

Palestinians are seeking statehood in the West Bank and the blockaded Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as their capital. Withdirect peace talks with Israel being stalled, the Palestinians have opted for lobbying the international community to recognize their sovereignty claim.

Israel described the move by Stockholm as counterproductive and said it would hurt prospects for future negotiations and bolster extremist Palestinians.

Israel, which has built settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, has long maintained that the Palestinians can only have their state recognized through direct negotiations and not through other diplomatic channels.

"The Swedish government should understand that Middle East relations are more complex than a piece of self-assembled IKEA furniture, and the matter should be handled with responsibility and sensitivity," Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman  said in a statement.

The UN General Assembly approved the de facto recognition of the state of Palestine in 2012, but the European Union and most EU member states have yet to give official recognition.

A total of 134 countries worldwide have already recognised a Palestinian state, including seven eastern European and Mediterranean EU members. Until Thursday, non-EU member Iceland was the only western European country to have done so.

British lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a non-binding resolution recognizing a Palestinian state earlier this month. Similar votes are in the pipeline in France, Ireland and Spain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bulgaria and Austria both believe Europe needs energy diversification and support a South Stream gas pipeline project that would comply with EU law, their presidents said on Thursday.

Bulgaria’s President Rosen Plevneliev said at a joint news conference after talks with visiting Austrian head of state Heinz Fischer that the building of interconnection gas links with Bulgaria’s neighbours is of paramount importance in view of Sofia’s goal to reduce the country’s almost total dependence on Russian gas supplies.

The construction of the South Stream pipeline designed to carry 63 billion cubic metres of Russian gas a year to Europe across the Black Sea bypassing Ukraine and via Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia and Austria was put on hold in Bulgaria earlier this year at the behest of the European Commission, which said the project violated the Union’s energy legislation.

Austria’s OMV is already prospecting for gas in Bulgaria’s territorial waters in the Black Sea and Bulgaria would be glad to welcome other Austrian companies to tenders for granting drilling concessions on other blocks in the Black Sea shelf which it is preparing, Plevneliev said.

Bulgaria will also rely on the expertise of Austrian construction companies in the implementation of planned complex road and railway infrastructure projects such as a tunnel under the Shipka Pass, the Bulgarian President said.

Bulgaria-Austria annual trade turnover has exceeded EUR 1B over the past few years and Austria’s investment in Bulgaria has topped EUR 6B during the period 1996-2013 but untapped opportunities still exist.

“Our country is affirming its position of a regional hub for information and communication technologies, production of components for the automotive industry and outsourcing services,” Plevneliev said, inviting more Austrian companies to invest in those sectors of the Bulgarian economy.

The two presidents also discussed the need for the EU to develop a common policy on refugees that will ensure fair distribution of the burden of the refugee influx among member states.

The EU can’t leave its individual members to cope with the refugee problem on their own, Fischer said.

 

Turkey’s tourism revenue increased 11% year-on-year in the third quarter of 2014, reaching USD 12.85B, the Turkish Statistical Institute said on Thursday.

Foreign visitors contributed 81.8% of total tourism revenue, while the remainder was obtained from Turkish citizens living abroad.

“Tourism continues to break records in Turkey despite the instability surrounding the country,” hurriyetdailynews.com quoted Tourism Minister Omer Celik as saying in a statement.

Turkey’s income from visitors travelling on individual tours was USD 8.91B, while USD 3.95B of tourism income was contributed by individuals travelling on package tours. 

The average expenditure of the visitors was 2 per capita and the number of departing visitors increased by 6.4% to 17 million.

Third-quarter tourism expenditure,which is the expenditure of Turkish citizens resident in Turkey and travelling abroad,fell 3.8%, reaching USD 1.18B, while the number of Turkish citizens travelling abroad increased by 10.4% year-on-year to 2.28 million.

According to Tourism Ministry data, the number of tourists visiting Turkey rose to over 30 million in the first nine months of the year, up from 28.3 million during the same period of 2013.

According to industry officials, Turkey is expected to post USD 35B in tourism revenue this year, up from USD 32.3B in 2013.

The country was the world’s sixth top destination in terms of tourist numbers last year, according to the World Tourism Organization.

 

The European Commission will resume payments to Bulgaria under Operational Programme (OP) Environment within two weeks, a senior government official has said.

According to caretaker Deputy Prime Minister in charge of EU funds Iliyana Tsanova the news was communicated by Regional Policy CommissionerJohannes Hahn, capital.bg reported on Wednesday.

The European Commission froze over EUR 900M in EU funding under Environment programme in November 2013 due to flawed public procurement procedures. In June 2014 the European Union Executive suspended about BGN 640M in payments under two axes of Regional Development programme .

The previous government that resigned in July paid out about BGN 170M under Environment programme to make up for blocked EU funds.

The caretaker cabinet that took office in August endorsed the allocation of a total of BGN 750M from the government budget to prevent stalling of projects under Environment and Regional Development programmes  already approved by the Commission. According to Tsanova, so far about BGN 450M of the total has been disbursed.

Conservative GERB and right-wing Reformist Bloc are ready to strike a coalition agreement after tripartite talks with the Patriotic Front at the National Assembly, leaders say.

The PF for its part is likely to support the alliance despite remaining out of it, the Bulgarian National Radio quoted GERB's negotiator Rumyana Bachvarova as saying.

A left-wing party, Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (ABV) that splintered off socialists (BSP) this year, might also back the minority coalition, Bachvarova added.

During their two-hour talks in the Parliament building, GERB, RB and PF agreed that the deadline to form a new Bulgarian cabinet should be the end of next week.

Thursday's talks mark a new shift in the RB's position after the right-wing coalition declared a day earlier it would reject a proposal from GERB to take part in a minority coalition.

If they combine their quotas of lawmakers, GERB and the RB would have 107 out of 240 seats in Parliament and would fall short of a majority, therefore needing support from other parties.

Previously the RB voiced their concerns that the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), which earlier vowed to back a GERB-led minority government, could lead from behind if a stable majority is not formed.

The Reformist Bloc's Radan Kanev later said that "a two-party government and a majority in the National Assembly sealed with a written agreement and composed of at least three parties" are needed to ensure stability.

Tomislav Donchev, another negotiator from GERB, said the joint program that is currently in preparation should be "a compromise between election programs of GERB and the RB."

Donchev had imposed RB a deadline until Monday to have a final say on whether it wants to join the government

Joseph Daul, who heads the European People's Party (EPP) Group in the European Parliament, has urged Bulgarian politicians to form a government after uniting around certain priorities.

In an interview with Bulgarian daily 24 Chasa Daul also called on the Reformist Bloc to take a final decision on its participation in the Bulgarian government to prevent instability "that could go on for months."

"Winter is coming, there is a banking problem. These are problems that need to be solved. And responsible people are needed to take these decisions".

Daul said he was optimistic about the current government negotiations after holding talks with various political leaders at the National Assembly, but added it was too early for Bulgaria to have a coalition between socialists and conservatives in the executive.

The EPP Group's Chair reiterated what he told journalists on Wednesday, hours after his joint statement with GERB leader Boyko Borisov in Parliament, insisting his visit to Bulgaria was not related to the consultations.

He explained it had been planned beforehand and the initial idea was to show support for GERB and its political family in the last day of the election campaign before the snap vote on October 5.

His trip was however postponed due to the tragedy at the Gorni Lom munitions plant and the day of national mourning that followed.

"I told Boyko [Borisov] I would come when we set a date. And when we did, I had no idea about such a coincidence in time [with government negiotiations]. I am not here to apply any kind of pressure at all," Daul told Bulgarian weekly Capital.

Just after Daul's talks with Borisov and other leaders on Wednesday, Borisov surprisingly said he utterly rejected any prospects of shaking hands with the nationalist Patriotic Front (PF) as a possible partner in government.

GERB's leader explained the PF's declaration during Parliament's opening session on Monday was unacceptable due to its incompatibility with "Euro-Atlantic" values.

Daul has also been explicit over the past hours that the EPP is strongly against any participation of the PF in Bulgaria's cabinet.

Caretaker Interior Minister Yordan Bakalov said on Thursday he was ready to retain the post in the next government, but "on certain conditions".

After attending in Parliament a hearing before MPs on migration, he told reporters he would place demands for reform if he is offered a ministerial seat in the cabinet.

"The demands are in relation to the implementation of certain reforms... certain positions. (...) Let's not fool ourselves - [we need] depoliticization of the entire system. For me this is one of the serious mistakes that have been made for so much time."

Bakalov added the Interior Minister needs 1200 additional employees to operate smoothly.

Bulgarian politicians are still to form a government and to reach an agreement which parties are to enter the cabinet.

Earlier Bakalov told lawmakers the refugee tide was not up in the past few months, but, on the contrary, the number of those leaving the country was on the rise.

Bulgaria's caretaker Defence Minister Velizar Shalamanov admitted there are Bulgarian citizens fighting on the side of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist organisation, reports Mediapool.bg.

“We have information from our allies that there are Bulgarian citizens fighting for the IS,” Shalamanov said. “This is very alarming.”

He, however, refused to divulge any more details.

Many Western countries have already admitted that there are holders of their passports who fight for the IS. The UN has urged all countries to criminalise the participation of their citizens in various extremist groups, as well as enlisting others and sponsoring such organisations.

Many countries already did so, but Bulgaria is not among them, though recently caretaker Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov proposed law amendments in this regard.

Bulgaria's ski resort Bansko is ready for the ski season and officially opens it on December 13, said the town mayor Georgi Ikonomov, quoted by the Focus agency.

“We are working on the water treatment system and hopefully will manage to asphalt the streets before the tourists arrive,” the mayor said.

According to Ikonomov, this season Bansko will host a round of the Ski world cup. “I hope this will attract many tourists,” he said.

Ikonomov added that this year, like in the previous, the town will hire additional police officers who will help with maintaining the public order.

Russia and Ukraine have agreed on the conditions under which gas supplies from energy giant Gazprom will be conducted in the winter, Russia's Energy Minister says.

A "document package" to elaborate on technical details of the agreement is to be drafted to complement the existing contract between Gazprom and the Ukrainian utility Naftogaz, Alexander Novak said on Thursday after a night of heated talks between officials from the EU, Russia and Ukraine.

Novak added the EU Commission had "fully" agreed with the Russian position on how the gas dispute should be settled, ITAR-TASS reports.

His announcement followed reports that Gazprom and Naftogaz were still at loggerheads over gas supplies after discussing the issue on Wednesday evening.

No solution has so far be found to the financial issue, with Ukraine and Russia still failing to reach common ground on the former's outstanding debt.

Moscow is now expecting that Kiev should transfer by end-2014 USD 3.1 B worth of payments on what it owes for past deliveries and also for undelivered (but envisaged in the contract) volumes.

The final price will be USD 385 per thousand cubic meters.

In June Russia introduced prepayment for gas to Ukraine, freezing supplies and announcing a 80-percent hike (from USD 285 to 485 per 1000 cubic meters).

The Producer Price Index on the domestic market increased by 0.2% on the month in September 2014, according to Bulgaria’s National Statistical Institute (NSI).

Domestic prices increased in the mining and quarrying industry by 0.8%, in the manufacturing by 0.1% and in the electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply by 0.4%.

In the sphere of manufacturing, monthly price increases were registered in the groups of basic metals by 1.7%, chemicals and chemical products by 1.3%, beverages by 0.2%, and fabricated metal products, except machinery and equipment by 0.2%.

At the same time, monthly price decreases were reported in the production of textiles by 0.8% and vehicles other than cars by 0.4%.

In September 2014, the Producer Price Index on the domestic market decreased by 0.6% as compared to September 2013.

Domestic prices decreased in the mining and quarrying industry by 2.4% and in the electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply by 1.5%, while prices in manufacturing remained unchanged.

In the sphere of manufacturing, annual price decreases were registered in the groups of food products by 2.3%, vehicles other than cars by 1.9%, and textiles by 1.6%.

At the same time, annual price increases were reported in the production of tobacco products by 7.6%, motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers by 5.3%, and beverages by 2.7%.

In September 2014, the Total Producer Price Index in Industryincreased by 0.3% on the month.

Price increases were registered in manufacturing by 0.3% and in the production and in the electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply by 0.5%, while the mining and quarrying industry reported a 1.6% price decrease.

In the sphere of manufacturing, price increases were observed in the groups of basic metals by 2.0%, leather and related products by 1.3%, and chemicals and chemical products by 1.1%.

At the same time, price decreases were registered in the groups of food products by 0.4% and rubber and plastic products by 0.2%.

In September 2014, the Total Producer Price Index fell by 0.2% on the year.

Prices in manufacturing went up by 0.3% on the year in September 2014.

Price increases were registered in the groups of tobacco products by 5.3%, leather and related products by 3.6%, and apparel by 3.4%.

At the same time, producer prices decreased in the groups of food products by 2.2% and in the printing and reproduction of recorded media by 0.4%.

A meeting of conservative GERB, right-wing RB and nationalist PF, until recently tipped to form the next Bulgarian government, has begun in Parliament.

At an unprecedented meeting, the Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), the Reformist Bloc (RB) and the Patriotic Front (PF) will try to smooth out their differences, most Bulgarian media outlets say citing officials from all three entities.

The three-way talks come against the backdrop of tensions between the parties fueled by GERB's decision to rule out the inclusion of PF in the next Bulgarian government.

Conservatives' leader Boyko Borisov announced minutes after meeting European People's Party (EPP) Group Chairman Joseph Daul that nationalists had become unacceptable due to their "anti-European" stance on various issues.

Just days ago consultations with the PF's co-Chairmen Valeri Simeonov and Krasimir Karakachanov had clearly indicated the two entities were determined to shake hands.

The PF however also backtracked, returning to its earlier position it could not send politicians, but only experts (not from the coalition) to a new government as politicians would not be competent enough.

Reformists for their part insist the three parties should jointly form the next cabinet to secure parliamentary majority. They also maintain a minority cabinet would require support from the liberal Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), dominated by ethnic Turks, a party which they believe should in no way be involved in governance.

After meeting Daul Borisov declared the only option to form a cabinet was a GERB-RB minority coalition, a proposal the latter rejected, prompting GERB's leader to announce he could form a minority cabinet on his own, with ministers only from his party.

Reformists now have a deadline until Monday to decide on their participation in a minority cabinet, GERB announced on Wednesday evening.

During the consultations scheduled for 14:00 EET in the National Assembly, Tomislav Donchev, a former minister in charge of EU funds management, Rumyana Bachvarova and Menda Stoyanova will be GERB's negotiating team.

PF co-head Simeonov is to represent the nationalist alliance, while Reformists will send the leaders of the three biggest parties within the bloc - Meglena Kuneva, Radan Kanev and Bozhidar Lukarski.

Stefan Stefanov's photo of a crying girl holding a policeman from last year's anti-government protests in Bulgaria was selected for the Hollywood production.

“The Giver”, starring Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes and Jeff Bridges is an anti-utopia telling the story of a society devoid of emotions. The sequence featuring Stefanov's photo is illustrating the history of humanity and includes the “tank man” photo from Tiananmen Square, skydiving footage, photos from other protests across the world.

In an article, entitled “How A Photo For 25 euro of a Bulgarian Student Toured the World To Hollywood”, the French edition of Slate tells how National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts student Stefanov took the photo in November 2013 and posted it on his Facebook profile. Within hours the picture was shared tens of thousands of times and became a symbol of the protests.

Reportedly the schoolgirl Desi, then 16 years old, was upset by the fact that the police were beating other protesters and was trying to reason with the officers. The police officer in the photo was telling her “Hold on, it's going to be fine.”

Stefanov got a freelance fee of BGN 50 for the photo from a Bulgarian daily, but, according to Slate.fr, will get a whole lot more from the Hollywood production.

“I am still waiting for the sum we agreed on and am getting a bit worried already,” Stefanov, who now works as a newspaper photographer, told the bTV national channel. “The most unpleasant thing for me is that many people say the photo was arranged. But it is not so.”

Bulgaria is to implement 5 energy projects worth over EUR 4 M with EU funding.

The EU funding will go to the design studies for the construction of the Bulgaria-Turkey gas grid interconnection, the construction of the Yadenitsa hydropower plant, and transmission lines from the Maritsa East 1 thermal power plant to different parts of the country.

The EU funding allocated to Greece envisages the construction of a connection from the Maritsa East 1 TPP to the Greek power grid.

The biggest portion of EU funding, a total of EUR 315 000, will go to design studies for the construction of the Burgas-Dobrich transmission line.

A total of EUR 306 000 will be paid for the design studies related to the transmission line between the Maritsa East 1 TPP and the Greek town of Nea Santa, while a sum of EUR 279 000 will be spent on the design studies for the transmission line between the Maritsa East 1 TPP and Burgas.

EU Member States agreed Wednesday to allocate EUR 647 M to support key infrastructure projects.

The bulk of the support goes to gas projects in the Baltic region as well as in Central Eastern and South Eastern Europe.

Funding will come from an EU programme called the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF).

The EU funding includes 34 grants, of which 16 are in the natural gas sector and 18 in the electricity sector, 28 grants are paid for studies, such as environmental impact assessments (EUR 91.4 M), and 6 grants go to construction works project (EUR 555.9 M).

Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov is to submit early in November demands that seven lawmakers who were sworn in this week be stripped of immunity.

Tsatsarov added Thursday he would also request the immunity of a MEP, the Bulgarian daily Sega reports.

The Chief prosecutors stopped short of giving names, provoking much speculation as to who the lawmakers are.

Different sources suggest former Interior Minister and conservative GERB's key official Tsvetan Tsvetanov and ultra-nationalist Ataka's leader Volen Siderov, who have recently faced trials on various charges.

However, then cannot be prosecuted anymore after being elected to Parliament.

Another possible target will be former socialist party chief and current head of the Party of European Socialists (PES), Sergey Stanishev.

Tsatsarov himself gave fuel to these suggestions by saying, "I think [the names of two] lawmakers are known for certain."

Investigations against lawmakers concern various criminal offenses, he also explained.

Earlier he had announced he would take the step against the three abovementioned politicians, who have recently been tried for illegal wiretapping, hooliganism and having lost seven secret documents, respectively.  

Back in the previous, 42nd National Assembly Tsvetanov, Siderov and Stanishev willfully gave up their immunity in order to be prosecuted, but the first two of them cannot be subject to legal action after becoming lawmakers for another time.

PES' leader also demanded to have his immunity lifted earlier this month, but being MEP he cannot renounce it on his own.

A case against him was halted in end-September after having misfired a number of times over the past years for various reasons.

Tsvetanov's trial was stopped earlier this month due to his new immunity and a hearing to be held a day earlier on the case of Volen Siderov also failed to start for the same reason.


 

State-owned gas supplier Bulgargaz has sent letters to all heating utilities to inform about supply cuts necessitated by the reduction in gas deliveries received via the pipeline through Ukraine.

Valentin Terziyski, head or the chamber of energy sector workers at the Bulgarian Industrial Association (BIA), explained in a Thursday interview for the Bulgarian National Television that the decrease would amount to 50% of the quantities requested by the heating utilities.

He argued that there were two major problems, including the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, over which Bulgaria had no direct influence, and the financial problems plaguing the domestic energy system.

Terziyski, as cited by investor.bg, pointed out that Bulgaria needed fresh financial resources to secure alternative fuel supplies.

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s trilateral talks between Russia, Ukraine and the European Commission, which lasted around 12 hours, yielded no decision on securing gas supplies to Kiev in winter.

Negotiations are expected to continue on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Bulgaria’s Ministry of Economy and Energy announced that there had been a decrease in the pressure in the gas pipeline and the country was not receiving the negotiated quantities.

Terziyski suggested that the situation had deteriorated on Thursday morning and the pressure in the pipeline had dropped further.

He said that the industry would be hardest-hit by the measure, including metallurgy, chemical industry and the production of glass, while households were unlikely to be affected because they were protected consumers.

Terziyski also said that the best-case scenario for this winter involved Ukraine securing USD 4.5 B and paying for Russian gas deliveries, in which case Bulgaria would only have to handle the problem of troubled companies in the domestic energy sector, while the worst-case scenario included a combination of the financial deficit in the energy system and a gas supply reduction or suspension, in which case the country would face heating and power blackouts.

The public transport in Sofia is the cheapest, compared to the other EU capitals, shows a Belgian survey, quoted by the BTA wire service.

Most expensive is the transport in Copenhagen – a 24-hour card costs EUR 17. Next is Stockholm – EUR 12.

In Sofia the same card costs EUR 2. In Bucharest the price is EUR 3.6 and in Athens – EUR 4.

In Brussels the 24-hour card costs EUR 7. In Paris – EUR 10.85. In London the price varies between EUR 11 and 21, depending on time and distance travelled.

The efforts of Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry have been aimed at countering human trafficking since the beginning of August, according to caretaker Interior Minister Yordan Bakalov.

Speaking Thursday in Parliament, he informed that 472 people had been arrested on suspicion of human trafficking since the beginning of 2014, with 218 of the total detained in August and September.

Bakalov, as cited by dnevnik.bg, said that 121 people had been arrested in October only, adding that the Interior Ministry and the prosecuting authority had held a meeting over the matter.

Bakalov asked MPs to help increase the number of employees of the Interior as soon as possible.

To illustrate the need for increasing the total headcount of the Interior, he noted that Bulgaria’s southern border was guarded by as many police officers as one district.

He emphasized that the concentration of a large number of police officers at the borders created problems inside the country.

Bakalov announced in Parliament that Bulgaria’s southern border from Rezovo to Svilengrad would be placed under 100% surveillance by June 30, 2015.

He made clear, however, that the illegal entry of people could only be countered by stationing border police officers or by erecting a border fence.

Bakalov said that it was up to MPs to decide on allocating funding for the construction of a border fence, stressing that the deployment of police officers at Bulgaria’s borders cost the state budget over BGN 1 100 000 – 1 200 000 per month.

Meanwhile, caretaker Justice Minister Hristo Ivanov made clear that around 3200 refugees had been accommodated at centers across the country and 408 were living outside centers, adding that the facilities had been filled to 50% of their capacity.

NATO headquarters said on Wednesday the alliance had tracked and intercepted four groups of Russian warplanes "conducting significant military manoeuvres" in European airspace over the past two days, reports AFP.

The planes, which included strategic bombers, fighters and tanker aircraft, were detected over the Baltic Sea, North Sea/Atlantic Ocean and the Black Sea on Tuesday and Wednesday.

In a breakdown of the incidents, NATO said that in the early hours Wednesday, eight Russian aircraft - four TU-95 strategic bombers, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, and four tankers - were detected over the North Sea, flying in international airspace.

Four Norwegian F-16 fighters were sent up to intercept them.

Six of the aircraft then turned back towards Russia while two TU-95s continued over the North Sea, with British Typhoon fighters called in.

The two planes then flew down into the Atlantic, where Portuguese F-16s picked them up.

The two bombers subsequently turned around, flying west of Britain, apparently heading back to Russia, it said.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday afternoon, a mixed force of at least seven Russian warplanes were intercepted over the Baltic Sea, while another two TU-95s and two Su-27 Flanker fighters were intercepted by Turkish fighters over the Black Sea.

On Tuesday, another seven Russian planes flew over the Gulf of Finland and Baltic Sea where they were intercepted by German Typhoon fighters, deployed as part of NATO's support efforts for its eastern allies.

"These sizeable Russian flights represent an unusual level of air activity over European airspace," NATO said.

Overall, NATO said it had intercepted Russian aircraft more than 100 times so far this year - three times more than it did last year.

"Scrambles and intercepts are standard procedure when an unknown aircraft approaches NATO airspace," the statement said.

However, it said, such flights pose a potential risk to civilian aviation because the Russian military often does not file flight plans or use on-board transponders.

"This means civilian air traffic control cannot detect these aircraft, nor ensure there is no interference with civilian air traffic," the statement said.

According to some reports, fighters of Sweden and Finland, who are not NATO members, also participated in the interception operation over the Baltic Sea on Tuesday. Both countries are debating eventual joining the alliance.

Meanwhile, a recent poll in Sweden, quoted by the Financial Times, shows that for the first time more Swedes are in favour of joining NATO than are against.

A week after the hunt for the suspected Russian submarine off the Stockholm archipelago, 37% of Swedes said they supported joining NATO while 36% were against. Five months ago a poll showed 28% in favour and 56% against.

Russia, Ukraine and the European Commission have failed to reach agreement on the issue of winter gas supplies to Kiev.

The major stumbling block in the 12-hour talks was Ukraine’s debt, according to reports of the Bulgarian National Radio.

Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak informed that the three sides had agreed late on Wednesday to continue consultations on Thursday.

Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller, as cited by ITAR-TASS, warned that the new round of talks could collapse and urged the European Commission to guarantee the payment of Ukraine’s debt.

Russia insists that Ukraine pay in advance for 4 billion cubic meters of gas at a price of USD 385 per 1000 cubic meters.

Russia also demands the payment of Ukraine’s USD 4.5 B debt for gas supplies already delivered.

The talks in Brussels coincided with decreases in deliveries of Russian gas to several countries in Central Europe.

Bulgaria was also affected by the measure.

Bulgaria’s Energy Ministry informed that 1 million cubic meters of gas a day had been taken out of the Chiren underground gas storage for several days in a row.

The Energy Ministry said that there has been no official explanation for the decrease in gas shipments, the unofficial reason being technological problems in Ukraine’s infrastructure.

EU Member States agreed Wednesday to allocate EUR 647 M to support priority infrastructure projects.

The bulk of the support goes to gas projects in the Baltic region as well as in Central Eastern and Southeastern Europe, according to a media statement of the European Commission.

Funding will come from an EU program called the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF).

The supported projects are to increase Europe's energy security and help end the isolation of Member States from EU-wide energy networks.

The projects will also contribute to the completion of a European energy market and the integration of renewables to the electricity grid.

EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger said: "I welcome today's decision, which will help us to quickly build the infrastructure we need to ensure Europe's energy security. The geopolitical crisis has highlighted the need to better connect energy networks. This is also crucial for an integrated energy market where consumers get the best value for their money."

Most of the money will directly or indirectly finance gas projects. Besides the construction of new pipelines, these gas projects also include terminals to ship liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the Baltic region, Central Eastern and South Eastern Europe.

Innovative technologies in electricity will also be co-financed. These include a feasibility study for a 700 km long subsea high-voltage direct current cable between Norway and the United Kingdom and a smart grids project on the border of Ireland and the UK (Northern Ireland).

Of the 34 grants given, 16 are in natural gas and 18 in electricity sector, 28 grants are paid for studies, such as environmental impact assessments (EUR 91.4 M), 6 grants go to construction works project (EUR 555.9 M).

A number of projects supported have been identified as key security of supply projects in the European Energy Security Strategy of May 28, 2014. The Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) provides funding for those projects that have clear benefits beyond national borders and are commercially not viable or not affordable to users in certain Member States.

The grants under CEF can finance up to 50% of the eligible costs of actions. However, in exceptional circumstances - when an action clearly benefits security of supply, strengthens solidarity between Member States or enables highly-innovative solutions - up to 75% of the costs for works can be covered by the facility.

The European Commission proposal was supported by the CEF Coordination Committee, which consists of representatives from Member States. Later this year, the Commission will formally adopt the list of proposals which will receive financial assistance under CEF-Energy.

France’s Total will start hydrocarbon drilling at the Bulgarian Black Sea block Khan Asparuh in the second half of 2015, according to Paul Sexton, Exploration Manager at Total E&P Bulgaria.

Sexton, as cited by the BGNES news agency, presented the progress of the exploration activities, saying that the company had wrapped up 3D studies and the data was yet to be analyzed.

He said that the first drilling operations were to be conducted using semi-submersible rig or drillships.

Sexton noted that the production of oil or gas could start in 5 or 10 years at the earliest after discovery.

A consortium of France’s Total, Austria’s OMV and Spain’s Repsol won an oil and gas exploration license for the Khan Asparuh block in July 2012.

A military plane crashed into a field near a navy air base in Southern California, killing the pilot.

The plane crashed at around 5.15 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon near Naval Station Ventura County, according to reports of ABC News.

An emergency team of doctors and firefighters was dispatched to the site and upon arrival declared the pilot dead.

Nobody on the ground was injured in the accident.

The Hawker Hunter aircraft was owned by Airborne Tactical Advantage Co. of Newport News, Virginia.

An investigation into the cause of the accident is ongoing.








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