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Pre-accession millions for Bulgarian farmers ending up in the wrong pockets

Sofia, Bulgaria -- A new report issued today strongly criticises the implementation of the EU's Special Accession Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development (SAPARD) in Bulgaria. The report, "Far away from Brussels", sheds light on how EU millions earmarked under SAPARD for the development of the most vulnerable sectors of Bulgaria's rural economy are not reaching their intended targets in a process that is dogged by a complete lack of transparency and accountability.

Produced by Sofia-based environmental association Za Zemiata, the report's central finding is that the SAPARD Agency in Bulgaria does not properly apply the selection procedure according to which it should select the best quality projects, namely on the basis of the National Agriculture and Rural Development Plan (NARDP).

Ivaylo Hlebarov of ZaZemiata explained: "The principal idea behind SAPARD is to favour projects put forward in less developed areas by small and medium sized enterprises involved in the likes of organic agriculture, the meat and dairy sector or other important yet struggling areas in Bulgaria's rural economy. However, what's actually happening is that the SAPARD Agency is not prioritising these projects, and is instead selecting projects such as ski resorts and coastal hotel projects on the basis of criteria that are not in the NARDP."

Za Zemiata, a CEE Bankwatch member group, fears that many Bulgarian farmers are endangered by the unnecessary barriers that the SAPARD Agency is placing between them and a successful SAPARD application. At the same time, the SAPARD Agency is demonstrating to the international community that it is incapable of both implementing its own plan and effectively distributing European funds. Following Bulgaria's accession to the EU, the same Agency is to be responsible for distributing funding under the Common Agricultural Policy.

Compounding Bulgaria's SAPARD scandal is the lack of transparency and accountability surrounding the scheme, with negative knock-ons for funding applicants, monitoring bodies and NGOs alike. This has led Za Zemiata to lodge a legal action in the Sofia city court against the SAPARD agency on account of its failure to respond to an official access to information request.

Dirk Jannsen, author of "Far away from Brussels", commented: "The SAPARD Agency has got to be the murkiest Bulgarian government agency. It has never answered any request for information, even though Bulgaria's Access to Public Information Act obliges it to do so. The Agency not only rejects the access to public information for the general public, it also keeps certain selection criteria from its applicants. As a result applicants who believe that they meet all the criteria for a crucial SAPARD grant suddenly discover that they are rejected."

The report "Far away from Brussels" can be downloaded in PDF- format from here.

For more information, contact:

Dirk Janssen
e-mail: Dirk2000ultraplus@gmail.com

Ivaylo Hlebarov
Environmental Association "Za Zemiata" / CEE Bankwatch Network
Tel: +359 2 951 59 18.
Mobile: +359 898 252 303
e-mail: hlebarov@bankwatch.org


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