Bulgaria lacks skill to absorb EU funds, PM says

SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria is struggling to find well-trained specialists to prepare local administration and businesses to effectively absorb billions of euros in European Union funds, Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said yesterday. The Black Sea state of 7.7 million hopes to join the EU in 2007 but analysts warn it may miss out on much of the available aid cash due to weak administrative capacity. «Bulgaria has problems in utilizing both pre-accession as well as accession funds,» Stanishev told parliament. «We face hurdles, because it is hard to attract skilled specialists at the Bulgarian level of salaries in state administration,» he said. With an average income of 160 euros ($205) a month, the EU hopeful is set to become one of the countries with the lowest living standards in the bloc. Many Bulgarians either emigrate to seek better income abroad or join the private sector. Stanishev said Bulgaria will launch a nationwide campaign later this year to inform local administration, business and non-governmental organizations about programs which can be financed with EU funds. The EU is expected to say in a September 26 report whether Bulgaria, along with its bigger northern neighbor Romania, are ready to join in 2007, or should be delayed by a year. Brussels has rapped Sofia for its slow and graft-prone judiciary, rampant organized crime and has urged it to boost its administration to be able to tap EU funds. After accession, Bulgaria will have access to around 11 billion euros, including farm subsidies, through 2013, of which 1.2 billion could be tapped in the first year of accession. The Socialist-led government plans to spend 550 million euros from the EU funds and for co-financing in 2007, in accordance with Bulgaria’s administrative capacity and the need to maintain tight fiscal policy. Stanishev said Bulgaria’s plans were realistic and noted that the use of funds in 2004, when 10 mainly former communist countries joined, ranged between 20 to 30 percent.

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