Uncertainty over visa issue
On Wednesday, the European Union Committee of Permanent Representatives agreed to propose to the Justice and Home Affairs Council to unconditionally remove Bulgaria from the visa blacklist, said a senior official of the Council of European Union. However, a decision has yet to be leaving Bulgaria uncertain whether visa restrictions will, in fact, be lifted.
The permanent representatives' proposal is in opposition to the European Commission's decision to send a questionnaire to Bulgaria, checking whether the country has met all requirements for lifting the visas. The permanent representatives find this would be an unnecessary bureaucratic burden. On 1 December, the Council is expected to take a principled decision on scrapping visas for Bulgarian residents.
The decision has to be reconfirmed by the European Parliament, so Bulgarian Ministers will only be able to implement any changes after the European Parliament pronounces itself on the matter.
Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, in an address to parliament on his return from Brussels and Lisbon, called on the MPs to sustain their efforts for an effective unconditional removal of EU visa requirements for Bulgarians. He assured them the Government would not relax its demands until a final solution is found.
Kostov has met with European Commission President Romano Prodi, NATO Secretary General George Robertson, Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres and other politicians to discuss the situation. He will continue to talk with representatives from the EU member countries to assert Bulgaria's position until 30 November—the eve of the European Council's decision.
Kostov said none of the officials claimed Bulgaria had failed to meet its commitments in the course of negotiations with the EU or the Schengen requirements.
According Prime Minister Kostov, there are two possible solutions to the visa issue: unconditional removal from the visa blacklist, or lifting the visa restrictions on the condition that an administrative procedure will be implemented within six months. Kostov commented: "Either way, visas will be scrapped effectively in the first half of 2001, because there are many technical procedures involved."
"Bulgaria has chosen Europe and we hope Europe has chosen us," Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova said on Thursday at a public debate on institutional reform in the EU, held within the framework of the European Conference in Sochaux. In a bid to persuade the EU to remove visa barriers, she recalled it was important to explain to common people what Europe is.
The Czech Ambassador to Bulgaria, Ondřej Havlín, was called to Prague for talks with Deputy Foreign Minister Hynek Kmoníček. The ambassador may be recalled because of his insulting remarks over Bulgaria and its government, made on the Czech national holiday in October.
Havlín denies to have made such statements. Czech premier Miloš Zeman did not rule out the possibility for recalling the ambassador, but stressed that only the President could take such a decision.
Addressing those observing the Czech National Day in Sofia on 27 October 2000, Ambassador Havlín said, according to eyewitnesses: "The situation in this country is disastrous. They are lying to you here that Bulgaria will become a member of the EU. The truth is different."
Havlín later on distanced himself from the press coverage of his statement, arguing that he had been quoted wrongly.
According to the latest survey by the Noema agency, ten political parties are likely to make it into Parliament at the parliamentary elections in the spring of next year. If elections were held now, 14.3 percent would vote for the ruling Union of Democratic Forces (UDF). The survey was performed between 10 and 17 November and included 1050 adult respondents.
12.5 percent of the respondents would vote for the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), five percent for the Turks' Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), 1.6 percent for the Gergyovden Movement, 1.5 percent for the Kingdom of Bulgaria Federation, one percent for the Euro-Left, 0.8 percent each for the Bulgarian Business Bloc and the Popular Union, and 0.4 percent for the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO). 35 percent would not vote and 24.2 percent were undecided.
UDF enjoys the confidence of 18.5 percent of the respondents, BSP 16.2 percent, Gergyovden 8.4 percent, the Popular Union eight percent, MRF 7.7 percent, the Euro-Left 5.7 percent and IMRO 5.5 percent.
The poll shows confidence in most of the smaller formations—Gergyovden, the Kingdom of Bulgaria Federation, Euro-Left, the Popular Union and IMRO—is three to five times larger than the potential electoral support for them. If their leaders manage to convert this confidence into an electoral behaviour, about ten political formations are likely to make it into Parliament with the present four percent electoral threashold.
The Government approved a draft for a long-term financial agreement between the European Commission and Bulgaria on the implementation of the SAPARD programme, and authorized the ministers of agriculture and finance to hold talks and sign an agreement with the European Commission.
A joint letter from the finance and agriculture ministers to EU Commissioner in charge of agriculture and fisheries Franz Fischler, voices the Government's full readiness to launch the SAPARD program, said Agriculture Minister Ventsislav Vurbanov.
The SAPARD programme will operate for six years. Some 520 million euros in grant aid will be allocated to all ten countries in transition, said Finance Minister Mouravei Radev. Bulgaria will get an average of 53 million euros a year, with co-funding from the Bulgarian side standing at 17.6 million euros.
A joint committee and sectoral sub-committees were created by the government on Thursday to monitor the implementation of EU projects funded under the pre-accession programs provided by Phare, the Instrument for Structural Policies and pre-Accession (ISPA) and SAPARD.
The Interior Ministry unlawfully eavesdrops on politicians, Nikolai Chiripov, Head of Department at the Supreme Administrative Prosecutor's Office, said in the daily Troud on Friday.
Those affected include Ahmed Dogan, leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, his deputy, Osman Oktai, Troud editor-in-chief Tosho Toshev and Boiko Rashkov, chief of the Special Investigative Service, says Chiripov.
The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party called for the resignation of the Interior Minister Emanuil Yordanov due to the unlawful bugging.
Matilda Nahabedian, 24 November 2000
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