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Bulgaria: Kostov's Criticism Of EU Highlights Threats To Reform

  • Ron Synovitz

Prague, 5 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Complaints about the EU this week by Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov shed light on some key policy goals in Sofia as well as potential threats to reforms there and in neighboring countries.

On Monday, Kostov told a Reuter correspondent that EU aid to Bulgaria since 1990 has been "negligibly little," and that Brussels has shown a different standard toward countries not named for the first wave of eastward enlargement.

Kostov's unusually outspoken remarks could be aimed at achieving several goals -- future compensation in case of a renewed embargo of Yugoslavia over the Kosovo crisis; speeding Bulgaria's inclusion in EU membership talks; continuing full operations at the Kozloduy nuclear power station, and getting more aid from the United States and international financial institutions.

In his interview with Reuters, Kostov said NATO airstrikes against Serbian forces in Kosovo would be a "nightmare" for Bulgaria because they would likely be accompanied by a new embargo on Yugoslavia.

Bulgarian officials estimate they lost more than $10 billion in trade during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war when road and rail links to Central and Western Europe were cut by UN sanctions. The World Bank says Bulgarian losses were less than $1 billion a year. But World Bank officials in Sofia told RFE/RL the sanctions did strengthen organized criminal groups that smuggled weapons and fuel into Yugoslavia.

As in other eastern countries, the Yugoslav embargo allowed secretive criminal groups in Bulgaria to gain considerable financial and political influence. In Bulgaria's case, some groups became strong enough to delay economic reforms for years so that they could continue to skim profits off of state companies through their ties with state managers.

Nicol Wegter, a spokesman for the EU's Foreign Affairs Commissioner Hans van den Broek, told RFE/RL today that none of the countries in the Balkans should expect any EU compensation if their trade routes are cut again by a renewed embargo of Yugoslavia.

"We know that sanctions do have a certain impact on the neighboring countries, including Bulgaria. But for a number of years, we've been saying that to address that particular problem, it is the United Nations that is firstly and foremost responsible for [any] possible compensation whatsoever."

Clearly, Kostov wants Brussels to ease its demands for the closure of the two oldest reactors at Bulgaria's Kozloduy nuclear plant, which produces about 40 percent of the country's electricity. In the Reuters interview, Kostov said the EU is exerting a "meaningless diktat" by demanding the closures as a pre-condition to Bulgarian membership in the EU. Kostov said a shut down would destroy what little competitiveness Bulgaria has left after suffering a severe financial crisis in early 1997. EU officials thought they had won promises from Bulgaria on early closures back in 1993 when a grant of about $35 million was awarded to improve nuclear safety there. Kostov's refusal to honor the pledge, which was made by an earlier government, is mirrored in Lithuania. The government in Vilnius wants the EU to pay compensation for lost earnings from the closure of the Ignalina nuclear plant despite earlier commitments.

Wegter refutes Kostov's remark that Brussels is issuing "dictates" on Kozloduy.