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Bulgaria – EU to freeze funds unless government Employment Agency chief sacked

21 November 2013

Bulgaria could see up to €400 million worth of EU money in the 2014 – 2020 programming period frozen unless the government in Sofia sacks the current management of the country’s Employment Agency, reports Bulgarian website offnews.bg. The money has been earmarked to tackle unemployment and improve Bulgaria’s labour market.

In a sharply-worded letter, the head of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Koos Richelle, said that the Employment Agency’s activities raised doubts about its impartiality. Furthermore, the letter said that the EC believed: “[The Agency’s] current management is a serious risk to the proper utilisation and good reputation of European structural funds.”

The letter stated:” Our concerns are based on the continuing complaints that we receive directly from Bulgarian citizens, as well as meetings with beneficiaries in place. Complaints reveal shortcomings in the management of the Employment Agency in relation to key target groups; unemployed people and employers. We are also familiar with media publications, revealing a possible political interference in the managements of certain operations of the Agency.”

This was the third letter sent to Bulgarian authorities this year and the second received by the current Government. The latest missive was addressed to Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski, according to news website Offnews.bg, which posted a facsimile of the letter.

It was reported yesterday by public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio that the head of the Employment Agency, Kamelia Lozanova, could be dismissed within days.

When asked to comment, Prime Minister Oresharski was ambiguous, saying: “We are thinking about improving the entire activity of the Employment Agency in the context of the letter from Brussels.”

Labour and Social Policy Hassan Ademov took a similar position, saying that the Cabinet had to get better results from the Employment Agency, but declined to make a comment on Ms Lozanova’s standing.

Ms Lozanova told reporters that she had not been asked to resign, dismissing the criticism in the letter as: “Opinions and doubts that are not linked to any misdeeds by me or any policies.”

According to Offnews.bg, one of the media outlets most critical of the Oresharski cabinet during the five months of anti-government protests in Bulgaria, Mr Oresharski cannot afford to sack Ms Lozanova, who was appointed under the previous government, because of her close ties to Podkrepa, one of the two major trade union blocs in the country. Ms Lozanova’s dismissal could push Podkrepa towards a nationwide strike, possibly giving a new impetus to the protests against Mr Oresharski’s government, the report said.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Ms Lozanova attributed the scandal to: “Companies and their injured interests. The European Commission’s audits for the past two year have failed to establish serious flaws or violations, and have not identified a lack of expert of management potential.” 

Concerns about the Bulgarian labour market come as the European Union prepares to lift the remaining labour market restrictions on Bulgaria and Romania as of 1 January 2014. Fears have already been raised in some countries about the impact of mass migration from the two countries across Europe and the subsequent impact on local labour markets and economies. 

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