Von: Alexandra Stiglmayer [alexandrastiglmayer@brutele.be]
Gesendet: 22 July 2006 18:39
An: 'Kristof Bender'
Betreff: Bulgaria courts EU with summer clampdown on sleaze

Bulgaria courts EU with summer clampdown on sleaze

20.07.2006 - 16:27 CET | By Mark Beunderman
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Bulgaria is waging a summer offensive to improve how it is perceived in Brussels, opening anti-corruption hotlines and sacking shady officials, with the European Commission saying Sofia can take "no holidays" if it wants to avoid EU entry delay.

The Bulgarian government last Friday (14 July) submitted a roughly 1,000 page long report to the commission including a series of measures taken against corruption, money laundering and organised crime.

An internal note highlighting parts of this report, seen by EUobserver, reveals an intense campaign by Sofia to avert any delay in its scheduled 1 January EU membership.

The commission could propose a year delay of its membership in a report due on 26 September if entry preparations are deemed insufficient, particularly in the so-called "red flag" areas of crime and corruption.

Bulgarian foreign minister Ivailo Kalfin told reporters on Monday (17 July) that these issues fall within the "perception sphere," as they go beyond the simple adoption of EU legislation.

The minister said the report sent to Brussels last week, updating progress made by Sofia since the commission's last report in May, contains "very promising results."

161 cases of corruption were investigated from 1 January to 31 May this year, with corrupt officials having pocketed €14.2 million and taken bribes worth €357,836, according to the document.

In a bid to clamp down on further sleaze, Sofia opened a national telephone number - 982-22-22 - as well as a website where people can report corrupt behaviour, which produced 624 alerts this month.

Officials sacked
The document states that "standards for administrative ethics have been elaborated and disseminated at all levels of the state administration - 600 posters and 100,000 brochures."

On top of this, 20,000 self-education CDs on corruption were distributed to civil servants, while public administrations have installed post boxes where sleaze can be reported.

Two high level officials, the chief of the State Reserves agency, Dimitar Dimitrov, as well as the popular head of the National Fire and Emergency Services, Kiril Voynov, were respectively sacked and suspended.

Meanwhile, the Bulgarian parliament adopted a new anti- money laundering law by which "the prosecutor general will have competences to request from banks information constituting bank secrecy, which cannot be refused," according to the document.

The Bulgarian government also reassured Brussels that "in the period January-May 2006, the criminal activity of 44 organised crime groups was dismantled," amid media reports of uncontrolled violence by gangs in Sofia.

'No holidays'
EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn during the commission's last meeting before the summer break on Wednesday (19 July) shortly briefed other commissioners on Bulgaria as well as Romania which is also scheduled to enter the union in January.

A commission spokesman said after the meeting "There is progress, but we need to maintain the momentum. Work has been undertaken and this has led to good results, but this is a snapshot of the situation right now and efforts must continue in order to reach the appropriate results."

One commission official added that Sofia and Bucharest can take "no summer holidays" as a lot of work still needs to be done.

A Bulgarian diplomat confirmed that all officials working on the EU file have been told not to take any holidays, with a discussion currently ongoing on whether parliamentarians should cancel vacations too.

Even some commission officials - normally enjoying long holiday breaks - will be working during the summer visiting Bulgaria and Romania for a series of so-called peer reviews ahead of the September report.

Bulgaria's Mr Kalfin said he expects a "critical report" from the commission in September, which will still mention "shortcomings."

"But we will make sure that there are not too many to activate the postponement clause," he added.

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