Sofia, May 17 - President Zhelyu Zhelev petitioned the Constitutional Court about the Act amending the Agricultural Land Tenure Act, asking it to pronounce itself on the amendments constitutionality. In Zhelev's opinion certain amendment texts are an encroachment on private property and deprive Bulgarian citizens of their ownership rights to agricultural land, which is a violation of Bulgaria's Constitution, the President's Press Office said. The amendments to the Land Act, which provides for the restitution of agricultural land included in the former collective farms at the time of the communist regime, were adopted by the parliamentary majority of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) a month ago. The President exercised his right to a suspensory veto and returned the act for reconsideration to Parliament, setting out the reasons for his decision in detail. The BSP MPs overrode the presidential veto; the Amendment Act is to enter into force on Thursday. "In the President's view agricultural lands in Bulgaria has always belonged to the Bulgarian citizens, therefore their ownership rights to it must be restored in full," the press release reads.
Having postponed his visit three times the past year, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin is expected to arrive in Sofia tomorrow on a two-day official visit. The Russian side said Chernomyrdin has earlier been prevented from coming here by domestic problems but many here attribute the postponements to divergence on foreign policy matters and particularly Bulgaria's aspirations for NATO membership. Viktor Chernomyrdin will be the first Russian Prime Minister to visit Bulgaria. Nikolai Ryzkov was the last to come here but as Prime Minister of the then Soviet Union. With the collapse of the mechanisms for economic and military- political cooperation after the demise of the COMECON and the Warsaw Pact, a host of problems surfaced in the Bulgarian-Russian relations. In 1990 the two countries lifted the bilateral free trade regime and the Bulgarian export lost the preferential duties it had enjoyed. The Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Zhelyu Zhelev signed in 1992 took the two countries out of political stagnation but brought no changes in the economic sphere. Over the past four years the commercial exchange dropped dramatically from $ 15,000 million down to 1,500 million. Russia, however, remains Bulgaria's major foreign trade partner. At the same time a mere 15% of Bulgaria's export goes to Russian markets. What set the two countries at odds in the recent years was unsettled liabilities. In 1991 Bulgaria accumulated a huge surplus in its trade with Russia, which could not be offset because of the complex settlement mechanisms. The commercial exchange list shrank to several articles only: natural gas and oil from Russia, cigarettes, alcoholic drinks and agricultural products from Bulgaria. But even in 1992, when trade nearly came to a standstill, the Commonwealth of Independent States was Bulgaria's major partner accounting for one-third of its total foreign trade. In 1993 bilateral trade started to go up, slowly but persistently. Russian Finance Minister Vladimir Panskov believes a $ 1,800 million-worth commercial exchange in 1995 is a feasible goal. The problem with reciprocal liabilities remained open until late March 1995, when the sides officially set Russia's debt to Bulgaria at $ 100 million and agreed in principle on its settlement. The two countries are now working out the technicalities. A possibility that is being considered envisages Russian supplies of spare parts for the Bulgarian aviation and supplies of equipment for the ferrous metallurgy, worth $ 50 million each. According to analysts, reaching an ultimate agreement on this problem will be decisive for the future business between the two countries. Since 1991, Bulgaria and Russia have signed 30 documents to regulate their economic contacts. And yet the governments that ruled Bulgaria in this period failed to normalize the business ties with Russia. If the cabinet of Prime Minister Zhan Videnov succeeds where the others failed, it will have a powerful trump card in its hand. However, certain circles voice fears that Bulgaria will have to pay the economic preferences with a political compromise. The schedule of Mr. Chernomyrdin's visit includes a meeting with Bulgarian Prime Minister Zhan Videnov tomorrow and parallel talks between the partners of the two delegations, as well as official talks, lunch and dinner of the two Prime Ministers. Mr. Chernomyrdin wishes to meet Bulgarian Patriarch Maksim. The Russian Prime Minister will lay wreaths at the Monument to the Unknown Soldier and the Monument to the Soviet Army. On Friday, May 19, Mr. Chernomyrdin will visit the Balkancar electric truck plant. Later, he will be received by Bulgarian President Zhelyu Zhelev, who will give a lunch in his honor. Then the Russian Prime Minister will be received by Bulgarian National Assembly Chairman Blagovest Sendov. The Russian delegation will then hold final talks, which will be followed by the signing of documents and a reception at the Russian Embassy in Sofia. Mr. Chernomyrdin leaves in the evening.
Liberalization of trade between Bulgaria and Russia, the establishment of joint enterprises and the development of transport networks are the main points in the final protocol signed at the 3rd session of the Bulgarian- Russian Intergovernmental Commission for Economic, Scientific and Technologocal Cooperation which ended today. The protocol was signed by the Commission's co- chairmen - Kiril Tsochev, Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Trade and Foreign Economic Cooperation, and Russian Minister of Finance Vladimir Panskov. The problem of providing preferential treatment for Bulgarian exports will be resolved at the Commission's next session to be held this autumn, journalists were told. Bulgaria wants to be included in Russia's list of importers enjoying customs preferences. The Russian side did not deny the request but proposed another solution to the problem: the establishment of a free trade zone. The Bulgarian experts said that a similar step could be discussed in a more distant future. It is planned to move facilities to Russia and organize joint production in its territory to provide a steadier foothold of Bulgarian goods on the Russian market. Thus Bulgarian exporters will not have to pay high customs duties and the competitive power of Bulgarian cigarettes, wines and medicines will be increased, cutting their cost price more than two-fold. The building up of a Balkan distribution center is at an advanced stage, Deputy Prime Minister Kiril Tsochev said. The center will distribute the gas coming from Russia to the neighboring countries in the Balkans. The establishment of a joint partnership for gas distribution will be discussed during the visit of Russian Prime Minister Victor Chenomyrdin who arrives in Bulgaria tomorrow. The project will be worthwhile for the Bulgarian side only if it is given certain preferences getting the gas cheaper than the market price and barter trading, Kiril Tsochev said. Eleven agreements - six intergovernmental and five interdepartmental ones, have been drafted and are expected to be signed during Chernomyrdin's visit. The Bulgarian and Russian prime ministers are expected to sign a joint declaration on the promotion of bilateral economic relations.
Sofia, May 17 - One of the cabinet's major tasks is to further the reform in science and education. The cabinet sees as its top priority to stabilize Bulgaria's culture and education and increase the nation's intellectual potential. Education establishments will improve their syllabus, measures will be taken to overcome the poor performance of high schools and universities, reads the tenure program the cabinet publicized on Monday. The cabinet will pursue a policy to encourage a better organization of schoolgoers' leisure time as a way to eliminate delinquency among minors and students. A further task is to raise the social status of teachers and university lecturers and speedily address the problems accompanying their training. An essential thing is that the reform in education make a headway so as to meet the new needs of society and open up Bulgaria to Europe and the world. The autonomy of higher schools will be promoted as a way to ensure freedom of education and research work of students and lecturers. There will be special efforts to make available the means necessary for the progress of the reform. The cabinet is developing a strategy to overcome the stagnation in research work, that will be used as groundwork for national and branch programs. They will promote the technological advancement of production and make it environment-friendly, and gradually bring unemployment to zero level. The effective mechanisms for budget financing will be reconsidered and new ways of providing financial assistance and concessions introduced.
The three top priorities of the cabinet's foreign economic and trade policy are to integrate Bulgaria's economy into the single European market, revitalize foreign economic ties with Bulgaria's traditional partners, and improve the commodity composition and geographical distribution of trade. These priorities are listed in the cabinet's four-year tenure program, released in Sofia on Monday. Bulgaria will seek membership in the World Trade Organization. It will maintain active relationships with the international financial and economic institutions, while protecting its interests more consistently, the program says. In 1996 free trade zones will be set up with the EU associated countries and later on with other interested countries. It is urgently needed to establish a fund promoting exports and an export credit guarantee and insurance institution. Given an adequate foreign exchange policy and improved access of Bulgarian products to international markets, the cabinet projects a trade surplus of 1,500-2,000 million dollars a year. The cabinet intends to pursue a moderately restrictive import policy so as to ensure protection for some local producers and prevent a further rise in unemployment. To this end the import of high technology products will be encouraged, while the import of luxury consumer goods and Bulgarian-made goods will be restricted. At the same time, the safety of imports will be closely controlled to prevent the sale of goods of poor quality and injurious to health. Other measures protecting local producers include limiting the export of raw materials needed in the processing industry and encouraging the import of raw materials which are not available in this country. This protection will be ensured through tariffs, taxes and additional import taxes, as well as through non- tariff instruments, including minimum import prices and licenses, the document says. The cabinet's protectionist policy will be moderate, it will be implemented for a limited period, after which it will be phased out so as not to be overprotective towards Bulgarian producers, the program says. Bulgarian state-owned overseas subsidiaries will be audited, says the program. Criminal offenders will be prosecuted. The cabinet will impose strict controls on the drain of capital from the country, non- repatriation of capital to Bulgaria and tax evasion.
Sofia, May 17 - The Government approved the text of an agreement on air services between Bulgaria and Russia. "The agreement will not be signed during the visit of Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin which starts tomorrow," Government Spokesman Nikola Baltov specified.
The Government approved an agreement on scientific and technical cooperation with Russia; it is expected to be signed during Chernomyrdin's visit to Bulgaria.
The Government heard the report on the work of the Bulgarian-German Council for Cooperation presented by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Trade and Foreign Economic Cooperation Kiril Tsochev. "The Council, which succeeded the former Intergovernmental Commission for Cooperation, will meet for its 2nd session on May 23, 1995 in Berlin," Government Spokesman Baltov said. Six task groups will consider the possibilities for cooperation in the area of investment, consumer goods, energy, agriculture, the food processing industry, tourism and transport. Two delegations will be sent to Berlin: a 50- member delegation of the Bulgarian business circles and a delegation of government officials.
The Government approved amendments to the implementing regulations of the Agricultural Land Tenure Act.
Parliament took a conclusive second-reading vote on Government-proposed amendments to the Penal Code. The new version of the Code introduces life imprisonment without, however, abolishing the death penalty. A moratorium on executions was imposed in 1990. In its reasoning, the Cabinet notes that life imprisonment is needed to graduate the transition from custodial sentences of up to 20 years and capital punishment. The Government argues that the amendments will help control crime which has assumed dramatic proportions in recent years. The amendments criminalize kidnapping and racketeering. The revised Code increases the punishments for crimes against intellectual property and copyright infringements, especially for a repeated offense. Audio and video piracy have been added to plagiarism, which only figured in the Code so far. A separate clause in the Code deals with the transfer of sums abroad through bank channels using false or forged documents. Interior Minister Lyubomir Nachev took the floor during the debate on the punishments for currency offenses, stressing that "millions, even hundreds of millions of dollars are illegally leaving Bulgaria." Stiffer penalties were also introduced for smuggling of goods. Parliament also began a second-reading vote on amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure so as to bring it into line with the Penal Code as amended.
Spain's Minister of State for European Integration Carlos Westendorp will be visiting Bulgaria on May 22 and 23. Announcing this today, Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister Stanimir Alexandrov said the visit is very important for Bulgaria because Spain will assume the rotating presidency of the European Union on July 1. Moreover, Mr. Westendorp chairs the working group preparing the 1996 Intergovernmental Conference, whose decisions about the future of the EU are important for Bulgaria as an associated country. Mr. Westendorp is expected to be received by President Zhelyu Zhelev and to meet with Prime Minister Zhan Videnov, Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski and other ministers. He is expected to have a meeting with the Parliamentary Foreign Policy Committee.
Sofia, May 17 - "The main purpose of our visit to Germany was today's meeting with the management of Kreditanstalt fur Wiederatfbau in Frankfurt. We discussed the establishment of a state bank for investment and development (SBID), for which Germany will provide technical aid," Todor Vulchev, Governor of the National Bank of Bulgaria (BNB), and Finance Minister Dimiter Kostov said at returning from Germany today. A little later they had a brief meeting with German Ambassador to Bulgaria Christel Steffler. "The program for the implementation of the SBID project was approved; the terms and operations related to its completion were coordinated," Prof. Vulchev said. Last week Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economic Development Roumen Gechev announced the decision to transform the State Fund for Reconstruction and Development (all of its funds amounting to about 450 million dollars and 1,000 million leva are designed for investments) into a bank. "Now we specified the stages of completing the project," the BNB Governor stated. The German experts of the group working on the project are expected to arrive in Bulgaria in mid-June. The German side wants the bank to start operating in September 1995, which Prof. Vulchev described as unrealistic. In his opinion, it could begin to operate at the end of 1995 or early in 1996. The BNB Governor pointed out that the capital of the bank will be entirely Bulgarian; the financing Germany is prepared to provide will be in the form of technical aid and credit resources. At the talks with the Ministry of Economic Cooperation it became clear that the technical aid Bulgaria could receive would exceed the initially specified amount of DM 22 million. In reply to the question why the Bulgarian officials had not met Minister of Finance Theodor Waigel, Prof. Vulchev and Finance Minister Kostov explained that their visit coincided with the Bundestag debate on the 1995 national budget and Germany's taxation legislation. "Deutschebank Director Peter Thiels assured the Bulgarian officials of Germany's readiness to accept the letters of credit opened by certain Bulgarian banks without having received the remittance of the respective amounts in advance," the BNB Governor said. He believes this will relieve Bulgaria's balance of payments to a great extent. Ambassador Christel Steffler told BTA that at their brief meeting BNB Governor Todor Vulchev and Finance Minister Dimiter Kostov informed her about the meetings held in Germany. Minister Kostov said they had assured Mrs. Steffler of the good atmosphere the talks had passed in and of the positive attitude to Bulgaria. "Mrs. Steffler was somewhat worried about the visit after she saw some publications in the Bulgarian press," he added. These days some dailies manipulated the reasons for the postponed meeting of the Bulgarian delegation with German Minister of Finance Theodor Waigel.
A Bulgarian parliamentary delegation, led by National Assembly Chairman Blagovest Sendov, arrived on a three-day official visit to Germany Tuesday. The visits is paid at the invitation of Bundestag President Rita Suessmuth. The delegation includes four of the floor leaders of the five parliamentary groups - Krasimir Premyanov (of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and its parliamentary coalition), Yordan Sokolov (of the Union of Democratic Forces), Stefan Savov (of the Popular Union) and Ivo Traykov (of the Bulgarian Business Bloc), as well as the deputy floor leader of the ethnic Turks' Movement for Rights and Freedoms Gyuner Tahir. Blagovest Sendov expects that the visit will contribute to the promotion of relations between the Bulgarian and the German parliaments and to Bulgaria's integration into the European and Euro-Atlantic structures. According to Sendov, the delegation will have eleven meetings, including talks with President Roman Herzog, to whom Blagovest Sendov will extend greetings from Bulgarian President Zhelyu Zhelev, with Bundestag President Rita Suessmuth, who is giving a luncheon in honor of the Bulgarian delegation today, with representatives of the fractions in the Bundestag, with Karl-Heinz Hornhues, chairman of the Bundestag foreign affairs committee, with Helmut Schaefer, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and other officials. However the Bulgarian National Radio correspondent in Bon reported today that the working breakfast with Karsten Voigt, President of the North Atlantic Assembly, did not take place due to some "technical misunderstanding", as it was explained by the Protocol of the Bundestag. "Both sides are interested in the meeting," the correspondent said. According to him, the meeting will be held either this afternoon or tomorrow.
Sofia, May 17 - Bulgarian and Agrentine experts discussed the opportunity for building a geothermal power station in Bulgaria, "Standart News" says. The daily refers to a statement of the Balkan News Agency which quotes the Argentine Ambassador in Sofia Nelly Maria Freyre Penabad. The Bulgarian-Argentine agreement on reciprocal investment protection, however, has yet to be ratified by Parliament, "Standart News" says.
The international BNP-Dresdnerbank-Bulgaria will open its Sofia branch within a month, "Standart News" says. The National Bank of Bulgaria licensed Dresdnerbank- Bulgaria in January 1995. The bank's capital totals 500 million leva. The French Banque Nationale de Paris and the German Dresdnerbank hold a 40 per cent stake in the bank each. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development owns the remaining 20 per cent of the bank, "Standart News" says.
Five consulting firms have applied to bid in a tender for writing a strategic plan for development of the Port of Rousse (on the Danube), "24 Chassa" says. These are the Greek Helenconsult, the Dutch Rotterdam Maritime Group, the British Sir Alexanedr Gibb, the Belgian Sema Group and the Italian Studio Valle. The winner will have to come up with a plan for the use of the Port of Rousse as a loading facility for ships plying the Rhine-Maine-Danube Canal, "24 Chassa" says.