France eyes Bulgaria defense deal

SOFIA (Reuters) – France said yesterday it expects Bulgaria to award by year-end a planned -750 million deal to French firm Armaris to build four naval corvettes for the Balkan country. «We have agreed to arrange by the end of the year a framework contract for four corvettes,» visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy told a news conference. The Bulgarian Defense Ministry picked Armaris, controlled by state-owned shipyard DCN, for the deal back in May 2005, but its completion has been postponed due to fiscal restraints. Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said the two countries would set up working groups to go through all financial details of the deal, aimed at strengthening the new European Union member’s position in the Black Sea basin. «Bulgaria looks very positively on that project… The offset is very attractive. We are seeing France as a strategic partner,» Stanishev told the same news conference. Under the draft deal, Bulgaria will order four new Gowind corvettes. Bulgarian media have reported Sofia would look into ways to reschedule the payment with the first installment coming after 2012. The deal is linked with an offset program, under which Armaris plans to use Bulgaria’s Black Sea shipyard Bulyard to build three of the corvettes and parts for frigates. The deal will open up 2,000 jobs in the Black Sea city of Varna, where the shipyard is based.