[JURIST] Bulgarian officials said Wednesday that they had frozen 10 National Road Infrastructure Fund [backgrounder] projects worth almost 90 million euros ($137 million) in order to avoid possible sanctions for using the money inappropriately. The funds are mostly grants from the Phare program [Bulgaria program materials; EU Bulgaria finance page], an EU policy designed to aid countries' development before their accession to the EU. Bulgaria officially joined the EU [JURIST report] in January 2007, but the EU has since accused the country of insufficient attempts to reduce corruption [JURIST report] and has frozen funds in response. Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Plugchieva said that an independent audit released Monday of the National Road Infrastructure Fund showed mishandling of funds and conflicts of interest. She plans to send the report to prosecutors. Reuters has more. AP has additional coverage.
The EU has frequently criticized the anti-corruption efforts of both Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the EU at the same time. In February, an EU interim report on Bulgaria [PDF text; JURIST report] criticized Bulgarian efforts to counter high-level corruption and organized crime for not demonstrating "convincing results." Last June, the European Commission (EC) issued similar findings in two progress reports [JURIST report], saying that Bulgaria and Romania needed to do more to achieve judicial reform, and combat corruption and organized crime [press release]. The countries' EU membership followed six years of accession negotiations. Both countries are required to meet a series of benchmarks; failing to do so could result in EU intervention and the loss of economic aid under Articles 36-38 of the Act of Accession [text], which lays out safeguard mechanisms [EC backgrounder] if there are possible threats to the functioning of the EU.