Sofia wants to bring army in line with NATO

SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s ruling coalition decided to boost defense spending next year to ensure the modernization of its army along NATO standards, the government said in a statement yesterday. The Socialist-led government approved its 2007 draft budget last month, but the leaders of the three ruling parties met to clear details over defense spending and minimum monthly wages ahead of a planned parliamentary debate on Thursday. In the draft the overall defense spending has been increased, but the actual spending earmarked for the defense ministry was set at 2.3 percent, below 2.6 percent – a level Bulgaria has pledged to NATO to keep as a minimum. «The funds for defense for 2007 will be near the level of this year – 2.55 percent. They will be (increased) due to a restructuring in the budgetary spending and a review of the excise duties of fuels,» the government said in a statement. The increase will not change the government’s plan to achieve a 0.8 percent fiscal surplus next year, when Sofia will become a member of the European Union. The plan will require an additional 56 million levs ($36.84 million), Deputy Finance Minister Georgi Kadiev said. The funds could come by a bigger increase of the excise duties on petrol and gas than initially planned. He did not elaborate. The plan is expected to anger fuel traders who have already protested an envisioned 13 percent increase in excise duties on non-lead fuel and gas oil. The coalition also decided to hike by another six percent a planned increase of the minimum monthly pay to 180 levs ($118.4) next year to boost low living standards.

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