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Bulgaria/Romania: Danube Bridge Project Nears Realization

Sofia, 11 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Bulgarian deputy prime minister Evgeni Bakardjiev, after a meeting in Sofia last week with high level transport officials from Greece and Romania, said Sofia was "ready to participate in and to ensure financing for the construction of a second bridge between Bulgaria and Romania.

Observers immediately seized on Bakardjiev's announcement, describing it as a surprise, especially for the Romanian delegation, headed by Transport Minister Aleodor Franku.

Bakardjiev made the statement at a press conference after a trilateral meeting on infrastructure problems within the three countries. Franku said that there was no mention of the Bridge-2 project during the day's discussions and that the first time he heard of Bulgaria's decision was at the press conference. Franku added that a thorough analysis of the project in the context of national interests was required.

In Bulgaria, there exists a political consensus on the need for a second Bulgarian-Romanian bridge over the Danube. It has emerged since economic sanctions against former Yugoslavia closed Bulgaria's natural import-export corridor to Central and Western Europe through Serbia. Successive governments in Sofia have been trying to convince the Romanian side that Bridge-2 should be built between the town of Vidin, at the far northwestern tip of Bulgaria, and the Romanian town of Kalafat. Romania agrees on the need to construct a new bridge, but is pushing for a different location. Bucharest wants the bridge built as far to the east as possible, in order to secure better transport links for the Romanian Black-Sea port city of Constanca. Bulgaria rejects this plan as uneconomic, arguing that the Vidin-Kalafat route is the shortest and most efficient.

Negotiations have repeatedly ended in stalemate. Bucharest took the position that while it would not object to construction of a bridge at Vidin-Kalafat, it would not participate in the financing.

At last week's press conference, Bakardjiev said unequivocally that "the location of the new bridge will be Vidin-Kalafat." He added that the Bulgarian government has conducted talks with the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Union (EU) on funding for the project. He said that the EIB is ready to allot about $50-60 million; the EU will help with another $30 million.

Bakardjiev said "the overall cost of the project will be about $120 million ," adding that Sofia was "prepared to give the remaining $30 million." He said, in his words, "we have the money and we are ready to spend it.

Bakardjiev said that other countries have vested interests in a successful conclusion of the project. In this respect, Bulgaria has requested and received Greek and Hungarian support for the Vidin-Kalafat route.

A source in the Bulgarian ministry of transport said that construction of Bridge-2 will take 3 years and that the Bulgarian government intends to allot $10 million per year from its on-going investment program.

In early January, Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov is due to make an official visit to Bucharest during which the Bridge-2 question is expected to be a focus of discussions.