Sofia seeks European funding for Balkan Belene NPP
€30bn needed for Western Balkans' corridors, PM Boyko Borisov calculates at a London forum
Maria Ninova, Monitor
2 March, 2018Prime Minister Boyko Borisov will initiate talks with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to secure funding to make Belene NPP a Balkan project. The news came in a statement made by the premier in London during a press conference of the Western Balkans Investment Summit. The event was organised by EBRD and attended by the leaders of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo. “Our electricity transmission networks can be connected in a way that will link Bulgaria and Italy through Podgorica - capacity that we can build together. I will talk to the bank because Bulgaria has two new nuclear reactors worth four billion that have been paid for and lie unpacked. We could think about a joint funding on percentage basis. It occurred to me today that this would be a wonderful solution for our Belene NPP,” Borisov told his colleagues from the Western Balkans. During the forum's opening, Borisov touched on the European integration of the countries in the region, calculating that it would cost €30bn to build the corridors crossing the Western Balkans. He used a map to show the routes of the infrastructure projects - namely corridors №8 Sofia-Skopje-Tirana, №4 Thessaloniki-Sofia-Budapest-Bratislava, and №10 Munich-Ljubljana-Zagreb-Budapest-Belgrade-Sofia-Burgas-Istanbul. According to the premier, the amount is €20bn less than what was spent on the wars in Yugoslavia, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. He noted that the Balkan leaders must do their homework before Thursday, 1 March so they can outline their priorities and the money they can spare. On that day, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will finish his Balkan tour with a meeting with the region's leaders in Sofia. Borisov urged his colleagues to show Europe that they are A-grade students and thus make building the corridors an irreversible process. Borisov noted that the Balkans already see progress at political level. “Serbia and Kosovo sit in the same row. No matter how dark our history is, we must build our infrastructure if the region is to prosper,” Borisov is adamant. According to Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama, political meetings should give way to concrete talks between the countries of the region about the corridors' sections and their funding. “It is time for us to utilise hybrid financing from various banks and start building,” he said, adding that the Balkans are a heaven-on-earth type of place that has everything needed. Putting in place digital infrastructure in each Western Balkan country would cost about €5bn. According to the Bulgarian premier, investors would not even talk to leaders if their countries lack fast internet service. “We must do all that is necessary to 'unlock' even more investments in the region so that we boost effectiveness. But in order for that to happen, structural reforms are needed - ensuring wider access to the labour market, improving people's qualifications,” noted EBRD President Suma Chakrabarti, who met Borisov one-on-one.During his visit to London, the Bulgarian premier also met with Deputy Assistant Secretary of the United States for Europe and Eurasia Matthew Palmer to discuss energy diversification and the Balkan hub project. Borisov also met with the UK's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis and the country's Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, both of whom shared his view that Bulgaria and the UK will maintain their traditionally good relations post-Brexit. The intersystem gas pipeline Bulgaria-Nis-Dimitrovgrad may be finalised by 2021, announced Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic in London. “The gas interconnection with Bulgaria is among the prioritised projects and is included in the Berlin Process for connectivity,” PM Brnabic said. She added that conversations are being held with different institutions for the project's funding and that the technical specifications paperwork is already done.