Bulgaria needs 2 decades to level with EU

SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria expects to catch up with the current European Union economic levels in about 20 years provided the Balkan country sustains its robust growth, Finance Minister Milen Velchev said yesterday. Bulgaria and equally poor neighbor Romania hope to join the wealthy bloc in 2007 but foreign and local analysts have said the two countries’ economies would need at least 50 years to fully catch up with the EU. «If Bulgaria keeps its current pace of economic growth, and we expect it to be higher in the short term, we will reach the current average EU levels in about 20 years,» Velchev told reporters. «It’s another matter where the EU would be in 20 years, most probably it would not be in standstill and would continue to develop,» added Velchev. The Bulgarian economy defied last year’s global slowdown and grew 4.8 percent. The government forecasts this year’s growth at 5.0 percent and next year’s at 5.3 percent. Bulgaria’s gross domestic product still stands at just 80 percent of the 1989 level, when communism collapsed. The average monthly salary is only about $140, compared to over $500 in more advanced ex-communist central European countries.