Bulgaria unveils ambitious program

SOFIA (AP) – Bulgaria’s government yesterday unveiled an ambitious four-year economic program meant to boost foreign investment, spur growth and raise dismal living standards. Independent experts say the plan reflects more wishful thinking than actual reality. The plan calls for Bulgaria to attract between $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion in foreign investment for each of the next four years, dramatically raise its exports, create 150,000 new jobs and balance its budget in 2005. This is a wonderful program as far as wishes are concerned, but from there onward my doubts begin – how will all this come about? said Emil Hursev, an independent economist. Prime Minister Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the former king, won elections last June on promises of quick economic improvement. His team of young Western-trained economists is proposing to fuel growth through a series of tax cuts. We will reduce all direct taxes, First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Vasilev announced yesterday. The government plans to slash corporate tax to 15 percent from 20 percent and cut income tax by between 2 and 9 percent. However, the International Monetary Fund, on whose loans Bulgaria is heavily dependent, has partly objected to such cuts. The organization argues that the country needs more fiscal prudence. Bulgaria is also planning to introduce excise duties on beer and coffee as well as a 20-percent value added tax on tourism-related businesses. The new economy and finance minister will have his hands full at his new post, completing the program begun by his predecessor. Alpha Bank economist Dimitrios Maroulis said the key is not to carry out major changes in economic strategy.

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