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MON, 04 JUN 2001 01:12:57 GMT

Suspended Dialogue between Sofia and the Stability Pact

Relations Clarified Through the Media

AIM Sofia, May 24, 2001

The Bulgarian Government has made Bodo Hombach, Coordinator of the Stability Pact, very angry. Behaviour of the Cabinet in Sofia towards the Stability Pact is impermissible and incompatible with the European standards, protested former adviser of the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in early May making unprecedented harsh accusations against the Government of Prime Minister Kostov.

Not wasting any time with diplomatic civilities, in his interview for "Deutsche Welle" he openly stated that he had been strongly irritated by the unwillingness of the Government in Sofia to participate in the elaboration of two programmes, one being the Pact's anti-corruption initiative. Before Hombach expressed his irritation, former foreign policy advisor to the Bulgarian President and current coordinator of the Stability Pact, Vladimir Filipov gave a number of interviews to the Bulgarian media harshly criticising the Pact. He even launched the idea on changing the Stability Pact's name since realities in the region have changed. According to Filipov, things were falling behind in the economic sphere. According to him, the investors were avoiding the region because it was not safe. And there was no security because the Pact forgot to invest in the economic development of the region so that the situation in Macedonia was partly a result of the slowing down of major international projects, especially in the field of infrastructure.

For his part, in the mentioned interview for radio "Deutsche Welle" Hombach called Filipov "a coordinator who doesn't coordinate but brings confusion" and expressed his wish for this "to change".

It is hardly likely that Filipov, as a former diplomat, would allow himself to express such opinions about the Pact had not Prime Minister Kostov done the same before him. During his visit to the USA he said that Pact was conceived as an instrument for the development of the region, but in context of Milosevic's Yugoslavia. According to Kostov, since democratic authorities have replaced the dictatorship in Belgrade it would only be logical for the entire initiative to be re-examined.

It looks rather odd that Hombach and the Bulgarian National Coordinator have started communicating through the media. But before such a "dialogue" was established, Hombach tactfully expressed his bewilderment with contradictory signals coming from Sofia. During his meeting with Bulgarian President Petre Stojanov in Bucharest on May 1, he had hinted at the difference of opinion between the head of state and the Prime Minister towards South-East European Initiative (SEEI), of which he was the Coordinator. On that occasion he pointed out that funds had been set aside for the construction of the second bridge over the Danube between Bulgaria and Romania, but also made it clear that they would not be granted unless Sofia set its relations with the Pact right.

For Hombach, and even casual observers, it is incomprehensible how could Ivan Kostov's Government distance itself from nothing less than an anti-corruption initiative of the Stability Pact. It is possible that in this way the Prime Minister wanted to suggest that his Government had never experienced corruption, but chose a way of expressing it that could hardly sound convincing to anyone. The more so as there are doubts that quite the opposite is true.

The anti-corruption programme clearly states that before any projects could be financed within the Stability Pact, it must be clearly established that there would be no misappropriation of funds. It envisages a number of actions aimed at fighting corruption, including the setting up of a steering group with the participation of Pact officials, EU Presidency, countries of the region and specialised international corruption-fighting links.

This is not the first time that the Bulgarian Government took pot shots at the Stability Pact. Last fall, Asen Agov, Chief of Parliamentary Foreign Policy Commission, also representative of the ruling Democratic Forces Alliance (SDS), threatened that Bulgaria would withdraw from the Pact if it was not excluded from the negative list for visas. In that context, Nikola Karadimov resigned as national coordinator in protest against the unfair "use" of the Pact. Vladimir Filipov then took his place.

If these attacks against the Pact were dictated by a desire to attract attention to the visa problem, today it is impossible to find any reasonable argument in the criticism of Prime Minister Kostov and his associates. All the more as the West has given assurances that it had no intention of including Bulgaria in some regional scheme, because such fears had been expressed last fall. Perhaps the most telling proof of this was the elimination of the Schengen regime for Bulgarian nationals.

True, according to observers, the Stability Pact has a number of shortcomings, the greatest of which is its sluggishness with initiating infrastructure projects. But, when one country critically doubts whether the Pact has been working well or not, then that country should first check what it has done on its own and how did it contribute to the good functioning of an initiative. And when it withdraws from one programme or the other, it raises doubts regarding the seriousness with which that capital takes the Pact's ideas.

Besides, the Pact is not a panacea and countries of South-East Europe should not count only on its projects - is a categorical stand of those closely following the developments in the region. Its basic targets are for South-East European countries to become democratised, to economically develop further and become politically stable. These three goals go hand in hand with a strategic one - to speed up the preparation of the countries of the region for their soonest possible integration into the European Union.

In that sense, attacks addressed against the Pact are most harmful for Bulgaria's relations with the EU, and ultimately Sofia's European prospects. For, the Pact is primarily an agreement on cooperation between countries of the region, on the one side, and those who voluntarily want to help it resolve problems, on the other. And the basis of that cooperation is dialogue. Naturally, the media are an important factor for intensifying the dialogue, but they should not be used as mediators in that dialogue. It should be conducted directly, in a business-like spirit and with good intentions. If Sofia succeeds in renewing that dialogue, it would be beneficial for both the Pact and region at large, and ltimately Bulgaria too.

Plamen Kulinski

(AIM)