In an interview with New Europe in Brussels, Neno Dimov, Bulgaria’s environment minister, spoke about his meeting with the European Union’s Commissioner Karmenu Vella.  

Minister of Tourism Nikolina Angelkova, Minister of Regional Development and Public Works Nikolay Nankov and Minister of Environment and Waters Neno Dimov held meetings in Brussels with Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries and Corina Crețu EU Commissioner for Regional Policy. The Bulgarian Ministers briefed New Europe about the latest developments in the construction of a “missing” section of the Sofia-Thessaloniki Struma Motorway (lot 3.2).The construction permit and the selection of the contractor must be done at the latest in April 2019, this should happen to fit the project into the expenses of EU operational program

Bulgaria, with this project, is committed to comply with the national and the EU law, we also want to listen all the actors involved,” said one of the top officials. “During the meetings, the Commission gave a positive evaluation of everything achieved by Bulgaria in this respect and we hope that our application can be approved within this programme period. “At the beginning of the month, we received the evaluation from the ministry of environment and we hope in October we will gain the approval of the respective national authorities. The best-case scenario would be to have the approval to start building this section in 2019.”But if the paperwork is not finalised in time, the officials warn they could lose the EU funding for the project. “This is not only a national project, but it should be seen as a regional EU priority because it is part of the National Corridor 4, which is the only corridor that goes entirely through member states”. The Ministers said.  This project is essential for the country both in terms of tourism and in terms of regional development, especially in the field of the environment, given that the route passes through the Kresna Gorge,” continued Minister Angelkova.

New Europe: Minister Dimov, you and Commissioner Vella discussed the remaining central section of the Sofia-Thessaloniki motorway. Can you tell us more about this?  

Neno Dimov: The main goal of the meeting was to inform the Commissioner about the progress and the approach we proposed on the issue. This important project covers 24km through the mountains and it won’t be completely financed with EU money, but it will also receive national resources. At the moment, the most important thing is to choose one of the five options as soon as possible so we can start the job. We have to find a balance among economic, social and environmental aspects of the project to get €680m from Europe. Because of the mountainous conformation of the territory, the plan will require the construction of several tunnels. It will be a very expensive project even if we are only talking about 24km.  

Did you discuss other topics with the EU Commissioner? 

The second topic we discussed was air quality. Bulgaria is struggling with this problem. Even though we improved the situation over the years, it is still a challenge we need to face. We discussed how this will continue. One of the decisions we took, because we are currently working with the World Bank on this issue, is that we will have a technical meeting sometime in October this year with the Commission to see how we can speed up the process of improving the air quality in the big cities. 

Did you and Commissioner Vella also talk about water pollution in the Black Sea? 

Water quality was not part of yesterday’s discussion. With Tourism Minister Nikolina Angelkova, we conducted common research on the Black Sea coast before the start of the tourist season. In fact, the coverage of what was achieved with wastewater treatment plants is something like 95% so you have almost all the Black Sea covered. Some plants are very new while others need to be renewed and expanded. Immediately after the end of summer season, we will have three wastewater treatment plants that will be expanded to have additional steps of water purification. So, we can say that the Black Sea from a tourism perspective is quite good. This is our priority as regards the Black Sea strategy, but there are other important issues. With the upcoming presidency [of the Council of the EU, between January and June 2018], another important topic we will have to address is plastic waste which obviously includes the plastic waste in the Black Sea.