How did the Commission assess Bulgaria's first payment request?
On 31 August 2022, Bulgaria submitted to the Commission a request for the disbursement of €1.37 billion under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). The request was based on the achievement of the 22 milestones and targets for the first instalment, as outlined in the Council Implementing Decision approving the plan. They cover reforms in the areas of education, smart industry, climate neutrality, digital connectivity, sustainable transport and road safety, justice, anti-money laundering, social inclusion, healthcare, and the audit and control system linked to the Recovery and Resilience Facility.
With their request, the Bulgarian authorities provided detailed and comprehensive evidence demonstrating the fulfilment of the 22 milestones and targets. The Commission has thoroughly assessed this information before endorsing the positive preliminary assessment of the payment request.
What are the next steps?
The Commission has now sent the positive preliminary assessment of Bulgaria's fulfilment of the milestones and targets required for this payment to the Economic and Financial Committee (EFC), asking for its opinion. The EFC's opinion, to be delivered within maximum four weeks, should be taken into account in the Commission's assessment. The Commission will adopt the decision on the disbursement of the financial contribution, in accordance with the examination procedure, through a comitology committee. Following the adoption of this decision by the Commission, the disbursement to Bulgaria would take place. The amounts disbursed to the Member States will be published in the Recovery and Resilience Scoreboard. The Commission has also shared its positive preliminary assessment with the European Parliament.
How do the milestones and targets achieved by Bulgaria so far effectively support the green transition?
The green transition is supported by reforms in the area of decarbonisation and sustainable transport. These include the establishment of a Green Energy Transition Commission to prepare scenarios and recommendations for a roadmap to climate neutrality; putting in place a national plan for the development of combined transport in Bulgaria by 2030 to promote cleaner transport; as well as the signature of contracts for the extension of the Sofia metro line system to provide clean, rapid and efficient public transport.
How do the milestones and targets achieved by Bulgaria so far effectively contribute to the digital transition?
While milestones and targets related to the digital transition are more concentrated in subsequent payment periods, some flagship measures are already included in the first payment. This includes a reduction in the fees for spectrum use in an effort to promote the accelerated deployment of 5G networks in the country, as well as legislative changes supporting a favourable investment environment to foster the deployment of very high capacity networks throughout the country. The award of contracts for the construction, development and optimisation of the TETRA digital system and radio relay network managed by the Ministry of Interior has also been completed.
How do the milestones and targets achieved by Bulgaria so far contribute to improving Bulgaria's economic and social situation, and its resilience?
Three of the milestones under this payment request include reforms which aim to enhance the effectiveness of the education system in the country at all levels - pre-school, school and higher education. These include amendments in the Pre-school and School Education Act and related secondary legislation, including making pre-school education mandatory as of the age of four, amendments to the Higher Education Act that introduce a revised accreditation system for higher education institutions, as well as the adoption of a National Map of Higher Education.
The entry into force of the new Industrial Parks Act will help create a consolidated regulatory framework to stimulate industrial investment and production in industry parks.
Social cohesion is strengthened through the entry into force of amendments to the secondary legislation of the Social Assistance Act, which provide for the gradual increase of the minimum income and an expansion of the coverage over the years 2022 to 2024. The Ordinance on the Quality of Social Services, outlining the minimum quality standards for the provision of social services, has also entered into force.
In the area of healthcare, Bulgaria adopted a National Strategy for the Mental Health of Citizens of the Republic of Bulgaria 2021-2030 and action plan, which aims to address the key problems of the psychiatric care system in the country.
Bulgaria has also made progress towards improving the business environment and the justice system with important reforms which aim to ensure accessible, effective and predictable justice; strengthen the anti-money laundering framework and improve the quality of the legislative process.
Does the achievement of these first milestones and targets contribute to an effective implementation of the Plan?
Yes, it does. Three of the milestones aim at ensuring an adequate information and administrative environment for the implementation of Bulgaria's recovery and resilience plan. Bulgaria has set up an information system for monitoring and management of the implementation of the plan. A Management and Control System has been approved and includes the ministries and bodies responsible for carrying out controls on the implementation of the plan, as well as specific measures to combat fraud, corruption, double funding and conflict of interest and arrangements for reporting and correcting serious irregularities. To ensure adequate administrative capacity, a workload analysis was carried out for the National Funds Directorate, for the Central Coordination Unit and for the Executive Agency ‘Audit of EU Funds' and relevant recommendations were implemented. Bulgaria also completed one target, related to the update of video guides to cover in full all business processes of the RRP information system.
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