EU offers Bulgaria and Romania 9 bln euros after they join in 2007

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission confirmed yesterday that it plans to offer funding to Romania and Bulgaria of 9 billion euros in payments after they join the European Union, expected in 2007. The two countries welcomed the figures and Romania said it showed that its plans to enter the EU in three years were on target. «This offer is both generous and realistic,» Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said in a statement, as the EU executive detailed what it would offer the two countries. EU sources had on Monday revealed the headline figures to Reuters. The Commission said the funding involved a total 15.4 billion in commitments, including the 9 billion euros in actual payments. Commitments are new programs and projects that can be started and may lead to payments later. The package has been limited to a period of three years after their EU entry. «The approval of the package is proof that Romania will be admitted to the European Union in January 2007 as it plans,» Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase told a news briefing. «It also signals that the calendar of (Romania’s) talks with the European Union will be observed.» While Sofia is progressing faster on its accession path, completing talks on 26 out of the 30 policy areas, Bucharest has closed only 22. Bulgaria, which has so far received warm words from the Commission, has been angered at being lumped with its slower northern neighbor, which has come under fire from Brussels. Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy told a news conference that the EU figures were encouraging. «We were not very optimistic over the past several weeks but the job of any government is to predict and prevent negative scenarios.» The Commission said the areas that would receive funding were agriculture, poorer regions and various measures to allow the countries to come up to EU levels in administration and nuclear safety, particularly regarding Bulgaria’s Kozloduy plant. On agriculture, the Commission has committed 881 million euros in direct farm support payments for Romania through 2009 and Bulgaria, 431 million. Rural development in Romania could receive 2.4 billion euros and Bulgaria 617 million euros over the three years. Regional development would be funded up to 6 billion euros for Romania from 2007-2009 and 2.3 billion euros for Bulgaria. Among the other policy needs, Bulgaria would get a further 350 million euros to support the dismantling of the nuclear power plant, the Commission said. Romania and Bulgaria, which hope to wrap up membership entry talks in 2004, failed to make the present wave of the EU’s eastward enlargement, which will culminate with the accession of 10 mostly ex-communist new members in May. At an EU summit in Copenhagen in 2002, the bloc earmarked a 40.8-billion-euro aid package for a group of 10 states to join this year.