Bulgaria, the poorest EU country, feels cheated by by a new proposal to be adopted by the Council on 12 December, under which six member states will be able to co-finance projects at a much lower percentage than the rest of the bloc.
“We are not in a position to block this legislation,” a senior Bulgarian diplomat told EURACTIV, only one day after the European Parliament voted in favour of the new proposal.
“Countries which maintain a strict financial discipline should not be punished and those that do not maintain the discipline should not be rewarded,” said the diplomat, stressing that Bulgaria will keep its position “in principle”.
The European Commission proposed last summer to increase the EU co-financing in cohesion, fisheries and rural development policies for countries that have received financial assistance under the balance of payments support mechanism (Romania, Latvia and Hungary) or under the European Financial Stability Facility (Greece, Ireland and Portugal).
This does not offer the six countries more money, but it enables them to “actually implement” some EU projects that would otherwise never be put in place, because of the inability of the countries to provide the remaining funds needed in the co-financing process. In practice, Brussels has increased its co-financing rate by 10 percentage points.
For example, Brussels will provide a maximum of 95% project financing in the case of Greece – from a previous 78% . The Greek government would not need to provide the 15% usually requested to member states, but only up to 5% of the cost of a project. In Ireland, the co-financing rate of the EU was only 50% and it will increase until a maximum of 60%, given its regions are richer and more competitive already.
According to an EU source, the deal that will be officially agreed between the ministers from all EU countries has already been struck and little if any is expected to change by 12 December. “A change of the situation is not envisaged soon, but Bulgaria keeps its position also for the next multi-annual financial framework and for the future,” the diplomat added.
Bulgaria criticised the move as it did not understand why those countries which did spend the allocated EU funds were “punished” by not being offered the 95% co-financing alternative.
EU funds are seen as a gold mine by new entrants in the EU, such as Romania and Bulgaria, according to EU sources. Despite the potential lying under the “mountain of money”, as a Romanian saying would put it, Romania continues to have the lowest fund absorption rate in the EU. “In some member states it was hard for countries to get projects done because there was a liquidity problem,” an EU official said.
Although Bulgaria is the poorest EU country, it is excluded from the beneficiaries because its macroeconomic indicators are stable.