Bulgaria PM vows to step up battle over graft

Boyko Borissov, Bulgaria’s new prime minister, yesterday pledged to mend fences with the rest of the European Union by stepping up the fight against corruption.

The European Commission last week criticised the outgoing government for failing to curb high-level corruption. It has been critical of the failure to bring to trial officials accused of graft in EU tender procedures and the lack of convictions in more than 200 contract killings over the past decade.

Mr Borissov, an ex-police officer who stood down as mayor of Sofia to become premier, faces an uphill struggle to dismantle relationships between local crime bosses and the public administration.

“We cannot get out of the crisis without (the stimulus of) EU money . . . we will work persistently to fight corruption until we achieve concrete results,” Mr Borissov said at his swearing-in ceremony yesterday.

Ín spite of the criticism, the Commission stopped short of suspending additional funding on top of about €200m ($284m, £172m) frozen last year.

Observers said the appointment of Margarita Popova as justice minister, following consultations with Brussels, indicated the new government was serious about tackling graft and organised crime.

Ms Popova, a senior prosecutor, headed a special unit investigating the fraudulent disbursement of EU funds which was praised in the Commission report as “an excellent initiative”.

Mr Borissov’s Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (Gerb), a new populist party, won 116 seats in the 240-member parliament in the July 5 general election.

Gerb was backed by the conservative Blue Coalition, the far-right Ataka party and the new Justice, Law and Order party in yesterday’s vote to approve the new government.

The three party leaders pledged to support Mr Borissov so long as the government pursued tough anti-corruption and economic reform policies, but would not join the cabinet.

Simeon Djankov, a senior World Bank economist who has taken over as finance minister, warned the government must make deep spending cuts to keep the budget in surplus and maintain the stability of the currency board regime, which pegs the lev to the euro.

Mr Djankov said Bulgaria, the poorest EU member state, would consider freezing a €4bn Russian-backed project to build a nuclear power station.

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