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Bulgaria cabinet confident on motorway concession deal

Date: 23.10.2007

Bulgaria's cabinet is confident the European Commission will find nothing wrong with the concession contract for the Trakia motorway, the country's regional development minister Assen Gagauzov said on Monday.

The Commission has launched a probe into the deal, awarded by the previous cabinet of PM Simeon Saxe-Coburg to a Portuguese-Bulgarian consortium without tender, at the request of MEP Nikolay Mladenov from the opposition GERB party.

Mladenov claims that the contract contains state aid clauses that are in breach of EU regulations, even though Socialist Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev claimed earlier this month that the bloc's statistics bureau Eurostat, which rules on such matters, had given its green light for the deal.

The bureau had already blocked the deal once, ruling that the Bulgarian government's willingness to guarantee the loans taken by the consortium to build the motorway constituted state aid.

It was later amended to strike out the offending clauses and submitted to Eurostat anew.

Gagauzov said he was hopeful the Commission would give its approval within a couple of months, so as not to delay construction any more, but added that the cabinet was ready to scrap the deal altogether if the European executive asked it to do so.

The motorway stretches between Bulgaria's western border and the Black Sea port city of Burgas, passing through capital Sofia and the country's second biggest city, Plovdiv.

When completed, Trakia will be part of the pan-European transport corridor 8, linking the Bulgarian Black Sea coast with Albania's Adriatic port of Durres and the Italian ports of Bari and Brindisi.

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