EU president: Bulgaria back on right track

The European Union’s new President Herman Van Rompuy on Monday praised the efforts of Bulgaria’s new government to fight recession and clean the Balkan country’s image marred by rampant corruption and crime.

The center-right cabinet of Boiko Borisov, which won July general elections, has taken steps to punish corrupt officials, tame organized crime gangs and put the poorest EU nation back on a growth path.

Failing to show results on fighting graft by July 2010 may lead to new EU sanctions on Bulgaria, hitting access to over 11 billion euros in aid that Sofia can receive until 2013.

“Bulgaria is again on the right track,” Van Rompuy told reporters during his first visit to Bulgaria. “I am fully aware of the intense efforts of the new government to manage the crisis, to restore a positive image again of the country, to modernize the country … opening the perspective of one day becoming a member  of the euro zone.”

Last year, Brussels froze hundreds of millions of euros in aid to Sofia after the previous Socialist-led government failed to combat fraud and sent high-level corrupt officials and crime bosses behind bars.

A recent survey showed Bulgarians believe that corruption has diminished since the new cabinet took office, but analysts say graft remains a major problem and more has to be done to stop it.

Since July, prosecutors have charged ex-farm and defense ministers with abuse of power.

Prosecutors are also investigating former Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev for losing classified crime reports on crime and the ex-labor minister for large-scale embezzlement.

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