THE UNBIASED OBSERVERS, Issue 3


From 1 September 2011 this newsletter service is subscription only. See Balkan News Service for details.


Thursday – Monda,y 7-11 July

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The purpose of the newsletter is to provide the latest news in the Balkans region in an objective, balanced and multiple-perspective way. All sources are quoted for the sake of convenience of the readers. By reading the newsletter you’ll learn in less than half an hour all regional top-headlines in politics and economy.

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Coverage: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Turkey

Timing: 6:30 am GMT every day Mon to Fri

 

Provision: e-mail service

 

Language: English

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The Topics:

Politics:

  • The fourth Libya Contact Group meeting to be held on 15-16 July in Istanbul;
  • Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman accused Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan of having “shut the door” on reconciliation with Israel after Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan stated that reconciliation was unthinkable before Israel’s apology for last year’s Gaza Flotilla;
  • Israel President Shimon Peres has thanked his Greek counterpart, Karolos Papoulias , for Greece’s recent decision to stop a Gaza-bound flotilla from departing from the country’s ports;
  • Iran’s nuclear program, the role of Hamas in Gaza Strip and Palestinian Authority’s bid for recognition were the three issues discussed by the Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Bulgarian counterpart during the Israeli official’s visit to Sofia;
  • The implementation of gas interconnection project between Bulgaria and Turkey should be stepped up according to Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul who alluded to Nabucco Project;
  • Huge blasts rocked the main Greek Cypriot naval base at Zygi in the south of the Mediterranean island early on 11 July and killed at least 12 people;
  • Athens’ Mayor Giorgos Kaminis promises removal of protesters from Syntagma Square in front of the Parliament
  • Greece has supported Bulgaria’s aspiration to become the permanent seat of the South-Eastern Europe Brigade after 2015;
  • The Bulgarian Defence Ministry is poised to spend up to EUR 1.53B (US$2.16B) on several “priority projects” including the modernisation of the Mig-29 fighter fleet, the creation of an additional mechanised combat brigade, the overhaul of the E-71 frigates of the Bulgarian Navy, and supplying the Panther and Cougar helicopter squadrons with additional logistical and maintenance support;
  • Billboards trumpeting Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s dismissal were spotted in the Bulgarian capital Sofia early on 11 July.
  • A Turkish cistern truck transporting amounts of a dangerous chemical rolled over early on 11 July, causing the ongoing evacuation of some 2,500 Bulgarians in the northern town of Debelets;
  • Talks between Belgrade and Pristine and the agreement he two states reached are harmful for Serbia according to Deputy Chairman of the Democratic Party of Serbia Slobosan Samardjic

Economy:

  • Greece’s debt crisis and the government’s stalling efforts to push through austerity reforms to get to the economy back on track are to top the agenda at an emergency meeting of Euro zone finance ministers in Brussels on 11 July, called by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, along with growing concerns about the precarious state of Italy’s finances; Debt-hit Greece’s budget deficit grew by 27.9 percent in the first quarter of 2011; The government has pledged to raise EUR 1.7B (US$2.5B) in privatizations by September;
  • China’s government approved a credit of EUR 213M ($US 300M) for the building of Kostolats thermoelectric power plant in Serbia;
  • Prices dropped by 0.3 percent in Romania in June on a monthly basis for the first time in nearly two years;
  • Bulgaria is making definite steps to achieve a fourfold reduction in the amount of natural gas it is buying from Russia;
  • The head of Bulgaria’s sale body has confirmed media reports that nobody knows yet who stands behind the two Austria-registered bidders for the state-owned tobacco giant Bulgartabac

BALKANS – POLITICS

Ankara (Turkey)

The fourth Libya Contact Group meeting to be held this week in Istanbul (15-16 July) will no doubt attract wide world attention, Turkey’s Hürriyet Daily News reports. The situation in Libya is at a critical stage with Gaddafi now threatening attacks against European targets, while rebels are consolidating their power in parts of the country. The location of the meeting has its particular symbolic importance after Turkey’s full diplomatic swing. After a prolonged diplomatic see-sawing starting with an initial opposition to the Western-led military action, Turkey has as of last week, recognized the rebels of the Transitional National Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people. Mr. Davutoglu’s recent visit to Benghazi confirmed Ankara’s change of heart and he will not doubt have a lot to discuss on this with Hilary Clinton during the Istanbul meeting.

But, the Istanbul meeting will also be a platform for another meeting with its own symbolic importance on a regional level. Although not confirmed yet, (watch the news) the Istanbul meeting on Libya will bring together for the first time Ahmet Davutoğlu, only just reconfirmed to the post after the recent general elections in Turkey, with the new Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, Stavros Lambrinidis. Lambrinidis, a dynamic MEP and a vice president of the Party of European Socialists was given the foreign affairs portfolio after the Greek government reshuffle on June 17. The times are tough with the image of Greece at its lowest ebb particularly among the public opinion of its European partners. In a few days since his appointment, Lambrinidis already embarked in a frantic tour of Cyprus, Germany, Holland and the Balkans. His task is doubly difficult. He has to improve the spirit of negativism towards Greece among Europeans, but at the same time he has to avert the fears inside his country that Greece being “at the edge of the cliff,” is more likely to “give away” strong cards of its foreign policy.

Ankara (Turkey)

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman accused Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan of having “shut the door” on reconciliation with Israel and having no intention of normalizing relations.

“It is clear that this person [Erdoğan] is looking not for accommodation, nor peace, nor normalization, but wants to humiliate the State of Israel, sap its international standing and harm our status in the region,” Lieberman told Israel Radio.

“I’m surprised he didn’t also demand that we set the retirement age for women,” the Israeli foreign minister said, referring to a recent domestic political dispute. “He has no intention of arriving at normalization with us. He has shut the door.”

An Israeli official speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News on 10 July said Lieberman’s statement was a direct response to Erdoğan’s harsh statements of 8 July, but that Israel still seeks to rekindle its ties with Turkey. Speaking to Turkish Parliament on 8 July, Erdoğan repeated his past criticism of Israel over its May 31, 2010, attack on the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, an aid ship that took part in a Gaza-bound flotilla. The raid resulted in the killing of eight Turks and one American of Turkish descent.

“Normalization of relations between the two countries is unthinkable unless Israel apologizes for this illegal act, which is against all international law and values, pays compensation to the relatives of those who lost their lives in this atrocious event and lifts the embargo on Gaza,” Erdoğan said on 8 July.

Athens (Greece)

Israel President Shimon Peres has thanked his Greek counterpart, Karolos Papoulias , for Greece’s recent decision to stop a Gaza-bound flotilla from departing from the country’s ports. Speaking after a meeting between the two senior politicians, Peres recognized Greece’s contribution in the campaign against terrorism, reports said on Monday.

The Greek president is currently on a three-day visit to the Mediterranean country with the aim of strengthening diplomatic and commercial ties between the two states. Papoulias, a former foreign minister with the Socialist party, is being accompanied on his trip by Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis, Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos and Deputy Environment and Energy Minister Yiannis Maniatis.

Reports said Papoulias discussed Greece’s painstaking efforts to avoid default. Greek authorities earlier this month banned a 10-boat aid flotilla from setting sail from Greece in a bid to violate the Israeli blockade of the Hamas-run territory. Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organization. Greek officials cited safety concerns for the ban. Nine Turkish activists were killed last year after Israeli commandos raided a six-ship flotilla on its way to Gaza.

Some analysts say the flotilla ban reflects a strategic shift in Greek relations with Israel. Greece, once a warm supporter of the Palestinian cause and a vocal critic of Israeli policies, has over the past few years sought to mend ties – a move also prompted by Turkey’s worsening relations with the Jewish state.

Greece only established full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1990.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Iran’s nuclear program, the role of Hamas in Gaza Strip and Palestinian Authority’s bid for recognition were the three issues discussed by the Israel’s Prime Minister and his Bulgarian counterpart during the former’s visit to Sofia on 7 July. The Iranian nuclear program poses a threat to both Israel and Bulgaria, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared in Sofia at a joint news conference with Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, right after the governments of Bulgaria and Israel held a joint sitting. Netanyahu expressed deep concern about the development of the Iranian nuclear program at the hands of the regime headed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “Nuclear heads in the hands of the ayatollahs are a threat for the world and for Bulgaria,” the Israeli PM warned in Sofia.

He further slammed the Iranian regime simultaneously with his criticism of the rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.”Hamas is a medieval regime similar to the one ruling Iran,” Netanyahu said. Netanyahu said the new flotilla organized by several NGOs to reach the Gaza Strip in spite of the Israeli naval blockade – similar to the flotilla in June 2010 – is not a humanitarian mission. Israel’s Prime Minister stressed that Gaza’s land borders are currently open for the import of any kinds of goods but weapons.

“We don’t want any weapons to end up there because Hamas have fired 800 rockets against the Israeli people,” he said. Netanyahu further explained that the reason the Israeli forces have imposed a naval blockade of Gaza is that the potential quantity of arms that can be supplied by sea would take months to be supplied by land. He said the fact that Israeli forces have intercepted a large arms shipment is proof for that.

“If you really want to help Gaza with humanitarian aid, you need to call for an end to Hamas’s rule. Hamas is a medieval regime similar to the one ruling Iran. If you want a free Gaza, Gaza needs to be freed from Hamas,” Netanyahu stated in Sofia addressing NGOs preparing the Gaza-bound flotilla.

The Israeli Prime Minister did admit that the Palestinian initiative in the UN for the recognition of the Palestinian Authority as an independent state in the fall of 2011 was on the agenda of the talks with the Bulgarian government. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has stated in turn that Bulgaria is in talks with the other EU countries on the Palestinian issue, and that Bulgaria’s position is that all parties in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute must be back on the negotiations table. However, Borisov refused to provide a clear-cut answer about Bulgaria’s final decision on the Palestinian recognition initiative in the UN.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Turkish President Abdullah Gul is on an official visit to Bulgaria on July 11 and 12, the press service of the President’s Office announced. The Turkish head of state will be accompanied by his wife Hayrunnisa Gul. Bulgaria and Turkey’s presidents will continue the political dialog after the official visit of the Bulgarian head of state to Turkey in 2008 and their attendance of several international forums in Sofia and Istanbul in 2009 and 2010. Security in the Balkans depends a lot on security in the Middle East and North Africa, Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov said at a joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul.

“We support democratic processes in these countries, said the visiting Turkish president. Today there is no place for closed and authoritative regimes. It is easier in some countries; in others there is resistance,” he added. The implementation of gas interconnection project between Bulgaria and Turkey should be stepped up, said the Bulgarian president.

Bulgaria has agreements with Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan and other potential gas supplier for Nabucco; Turkey’s contacts with other countries and the above mentioned ones are intensive and that’s why the two countries are significant for providing gas for Nabucco pipeline – even more than the 31 billion cubic meters originally planned, said President Parvanov. According to the Bulgarian head of state all unsolved issues related with Tundzha reservoir project should be resolved as there are areas in it which are protected under Natura 2000.

Nicosia (Cyprus)

Huge blasts rocked the main Greek Cypriot naval base at Zygi in the south of the Mediterranean island early on 11 July , the state CNA news agency reported.

“There were 98 containers of gunpowder. Two of them (caught) fire and huge explosions occurred,” the news agency quoted a police spokesman as saying. The spokesman said that the blasts, which struck shortly before 6 am (0300 GMT), were the probable cause of widespread power cuts that hit the island early on 11 July. At least 12 people were killed in the blasts. Public radio reported min. 30 people were also injured in the explosions, which it said struck among weapons seized from an Iranian shipment aboard a Cypriot-flagged vessel in 2009.The radio said that the fire brigade were called to a blaze near the base at 4:24 am (0124 GMT) and that the explosions followed at 5:50 am (0250 GMT).Wildfires are a frequent problem in Cyprus in the tinder-dry conditions created by the searing summer heat.

Athens (Greece)

Athens’ Mayor Giorgos Kaminis said he will ask the police to help the municipality’s effort to remove protesters from Syntagma Square in front of the Parliament.

Hundreds of demonstrators, known as the Indignant, have made Syntagma their temporary home by pitching tents at the heart of the Greek capital since May 25 — the start-date of a series of mass rallies against the Socialist government’s austerity measures.

Kaminis was speaking following a meeting with shop owners and labor group officials focused on restoring the capital’s tainted image. Successive demonstrations, some of them violent, have caused extensive damage and kept tourists and consumers away from the city center.

“Camping in a public space is not a constitutional right,” the mayor of Athens said on Monday, adding that, if necessary, the police will help to empty the square.

Justice Minister Miltiadis Papaioannou last week said that the “gypsy tents in Syntagma make for an unacceptable sight.”

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Greece has supported Bulgaria’s aspiration to become the permanent seat of the South-Eastern Europe Brigade after 2015, Bulgaria’s Novinite.com reports. This has been made clear by Gen. Ioannis Giagkos, Chief of the National Defense Staff of Greece, who was welcomed in Sofia on 6 July  by the Bulgarian Head of Defense Gen. Simeon Simeonov. In the fall of 2010, Bulgaria offered to become the permanent host of the South-Eastern Europe Brigade after 2015.

The South-Eastern Europe Brigade (SEEBRIG) is a cooperation of seven regional NATO and Partnership for Peace states: Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece, Italy, Romania, and Turkey. The joint military brigade is currently under transformation to become a modern mobile unit for participation in NATO and EU campaigns under the auspices of the UN. Up to now, SEEBRIG has been hosted at a rotation principle. Its first domicile was Bulgaria’s Plovdiv (1999-2003), after which it moved to Constanta, Romania (2003-2007), and then to Istanbul, Turkey (2007-2011), and has recently been based in Larissa, Greece, for 2011-2015.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

The Bulgarian Defence Ministry is poised to spend up to EUR 1.53B (US$2.16B) on several “priority projects,” in an aim to modernise, boost and increase the capacity and effectiveness of the armed forces, deputy defence minister Valentin Radev said on 6 July 2011, quoted by Bulgarian news agency BTA. In all, there were 13 projects including the modernisation of the Mig-29 fighter fleet, the creation of an additional mechanised combat brigade, the overhaul of the E-71 frigates of the Bulgarian Navy, and supplying the Panther and Cougar helicopter squadrons with additional logistical and maintenance support, he said.

Bulgaria will also need to invest in the purchase of a new combat fighter jet, the report said. The Defence Ministry will aim to keep spending at no more than 1.5 per cent of gross domestic product over the “next few years in the future,” Radev said. At the end of May, Defence Minister Anyo Angelov said that the country is contemplating the purchase of a new type of multi-function fighter aircraft. The reassessment of the country’s financial resources will be made at the end of 2011 and if the “the balance of those resources over the next few years is positive, and depending on the price we are offered, we could purchase new multi-function fighter jets,” he said at the time.

During the Nato parliamentary assembly in Varna, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said that the country would be cooperating with Romania, Croatia and Turkey for the possible “mutually beneficial purchase of fighter jets”.

Talking about the prospects for the Bulgarian defence ministry, Radev said that the ministry was progressively doing better in cutting down its debts to Bulgarian businesses, fromEUR 294M (US$ 415M) in 2009 to 130 million leva in 2010, a figure that has now been reduced to EUR 66.5M (US$ 93.7M). Bulgaria had 45 army personnel for every 10 000 people –  second in Europe only to Greece, which had 119. At the other end, Austria had 12 but was spending the most, 35 000 euro for every soldier annually, compared to Bulgaria spending just 5000 euro. Bulgaria should be emulating Austria with a less numerous but better equipped armed force, Radev said.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Billboards trumpeting Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s dismissal were spotted in the Bulgarian capital Sofia early on 11 July.

“I will fire Boyko Borissov!,” the billboards read on their both sides, the BGNES news agency has reported. It is still unknown who has made the statement. New political messages on billboards are expected to follow, according to Dnes.dir.bg.

On July 5, a Facebook group which gathered more than 30 000 members, declared an event entitled “A Day without Boyko Borissov”. The Facebook users in question were outraged by what they perceived as the Prime Minister’s overwhelming media presence, which they said contrasted with the lack of results on behalf of his cabinet.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

A Turkish cistern truck transporting amounts of a dangerous chemical rolled over early on 11 July, causing the ongoing evacuation of some 2,500 Bulgarians in the northern town of Debelets near Veliko Tarnovo. The cistern truck, traveling between the town of Kalifarevo and the city of Veliko Tarnovo, crashed at 01:48 am local time near Debelets, Bulgaria’s Dnevnik daily has reported. A total of 51 children residing a local medical care orphanage were the first to be evacuated . High levels of harmful emissions have been registered in the region of the accident early on 11 July. The cistern truck was transporting styrene, which is considered a hazardous chemical, especially in case of eye contact, but also in case of skin contact, of ingestion and of inhalation. It is a suspected toxin to the gastrointestinal tract, kidney, and respiratory system, among others. The mayor of the town informed that by noontime, all the population was transported to the nearing Veliko Tarnovo and Kilifarevo and the last measurements have shown normalization of the situation.

Belgrade (Serbia)

Talks between Belgrade and Pristine and the agreement he two states reached are harmful for Serbia. That is what Deputy Chairman of the Democratic Party of Serbia Slobosan Samardjic stated, Beta news agency announced. In Samardjic’s words the talks are arresting for the interests of Serbia. According to him they are based on friendly relations between the two independent countries.

 

BALKANS ECONOMY

Economy

Athens (Greece).

Greece’s debt crisis and the government’s stalling efforts to push through austerity reforms to get to the economy back on track are to top the agenda at an emergency meeting of Euro zone finance ministers in Brussels on 11 July, called by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, along with growing concerns about the precarious state of Italy’s finances, Greece’s Ekathimerini newspaper reports. Rompuy called for the meeting ahead of a scheduled Eurogroup summit, due to begin on Monday afternoon, which is to focus on plans to draft a second rescue package for Greece. According to sources, the morning meeting will focus on Greece’s problems but is also expected to touch on growing concerns about market pressure on Italy. The EC president has reportedly invited European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet, Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker , European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn to attend the precursor meeting.

Dow Jones quoted a senior Euro zone official as saying that delays in Greek reforms were a key concern. “There are various concerns and worries about the progress of the second bailout package [for Greece], mostly because of little progress in the private-sector involvement,” the official was quoted as saying.

Delays in Greece’s implementation of reforms were also mentioned Friday by Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, one of Greece’s three foreign creditors. After the IMF approved the release of its part of a fifth tranche of emergency aid, Lagarde said that Greek reforms were progressing but not fast enough. “The program is delivering important results… however, with many important structural reforms still to be implemented, significant policy challenges remain,” she said. As Greece’s creditors push for reforms, pressure is building on the domestic front too with a recent opinion poll showing the main opposition New Democracy leading ruling PASOK by 1.3 percent.

Finance Ministers could include new concessions by European lenders to reduce Greece’s debt, including further lowering interest rates on bailout loans and a broad-based bond buyback program.

Debt-hit Greece’s budget deficit grew by 27.9 percent in the first quarter of 2011 despite over a year of austerity efforts, AFP cites data of the Greek Ministry of Finance. The ministry said state finances were over two billion euros adrift with a recorded shortfall of 12.78 billion over a targeted 10.37 billion. Fiscal revenue was down by 8.3 percent compared with the same period last year while expenditure has increased by 8.8 percent, it added.
The announcement came as European Union leaders held talks in Brussels amid mounting signs that the eurozone debt crisis was spreading to major EU economies, Italy and Spain.
The talks were expected to focus on the prickly issue of private-sector involvement in a second bailout of Greece after last year’s 110-billion-euro ($157-billion) rescue package from the EU and the International Monetary Fund, a deal not expected before September.
But there is discord in the Euro zone over how to bring banks and other private creditors to bear a share in a new rescue, without triggering a default which would ripple across the single currency area. Prime Minister George Papandreou’s Socialist government has fought hard — politically in parliament but also on the streets against protesters — to secure approval of a 28.4-billion fiscal plan demanded by the country’s creditors in return for more aid.

Athens (Greece)

Eurobank Equities executive Costas Mitropoulos has been appointed chief executive of Greece’s privatizations agency, Greece’s Ekathimerini Newspaper informs.The newly-established body is set to oversee billions of euros in asset sales, part of Greece’s efforts to avoid default and streamline its notoriously dysfunctional economy. The government has pledged to raise EUR 1.7B (US$2.5B) in privatizations by September, as agreed with its foreign lenders — the European Union and the International Monetary Fund — who pulled Greece back from the brink of bankruptcy with a 110 billion-euro bailout a year ago.

Greece must deliver EUR 50B (US$70B) in proceeds from an ambitious and complicated state selloff by 2015, including 5 billion this year. After 18 months in office, the George Papandreou administration has failed to launch any privatizations. Next to Mitropoulos, who has until today chaired the investment arm of Greece’s second-largest lender EFG Eurobank, the Socialist government also picked law professor and former minister Yannis Koukiadis as board chairman.

Belgrade, (Serbia).

China’s government approved a credit of $US 300 M for the building of Kostolats thermo-electrical power plant in Serbia, said Serbia’s Vice President Ivitza Dacic as quoted by RTV (Vojvodina Radio TV). In his words, Serbia must continue to develop its bilateral cooperation with China.

Bucharest (Romania)

Prices dropped by 0.3 percent in Romania in June on a monthly basis for the first time in nearly two years according to data of Romania’s National Statistics Office, quoted by AFP. Food prices fell by 1.34 percent on average, with the price of vegetables dropping by as much as 12 percent, after several months of steep increases.Non food prices went up by 0.19 percent and services by 0.68 percent.On a yearly basis however inflation continued to fly high, reaching 7.93 percent, compared to 8.41 percent in May.In a bid to drum up public revenues, Romania had increased VAT on goods and services from 19 to 24 percent in July 2010, causing inflation to sky rocket.The lingering impact of the move recently made the central bank (BNR) raise its inflation forecast for 2011 from 3.6 to 5.1 percent.

BNR governor Mugur Isarescu however stressed that a good agricultural year could tone down the rise.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgaria is making definite steps to achieve a fourfold reduction in the amount of natural gas it is buying from Russia, according to an extensive publication by Russian paper Kommersant. Looking at boosting its own gas production, but also at diversifying imports, Bulgaria targets a reduction from the 2 B cubic meters of gas it buys from Russia per annum, to some 500 M cub.m in 2-3 years. Bulgarian Minister of Economyр Energy and Tourism has already declared Bulgaria’s intention to give up on long-term contracts with Russian gas giant Gazprom. Bulgaria’s commitment to explore for shale gas on its territory is seen as a pressure against Gazprom. Recently US energy giant Chevron receved a permit to explore for shale gas in the north-east part of the country, at a site that is believed to contain massive amounts that could satisfy the country’s gas needs for decades on. Bulgarian-American company Direct Petroleum has already made significant findings of 10 B cub.m. shale gas in central northern Bulgaria and plans to start producing in 1-2 years at a rate of some 1 B cub.m. per annum.

France has recently become the first country to ban the production of shale gas on its territory, and worries are rampant in the USA, the very country where the novel technique led to a revolution in the gas market. But Bulgaria is also looking at other ways to diversify gas supply, including pushing the EU Nabucco pipeline project, set to deliver gas from the Caspian and Middle East, as well as constructing system links with neighbors Romania and Greece.

Kommersant further quotes analysts who remark that in addition Bulgaria needs to develop a competitive internal market for natural gas to achieve lower prices for consumers. There are only two major companies that sell gas in Bulgaria, the state Bulgargaz, selling gas to industrial consumers, and Gazprom-controlled Overgas, which primarily sells gas to households.Kommersant recalls that if those plans of Bulgaria reach fruition, that will be a second major hit against Gazprom, after Croatia has given up on its 1 B cub.m. of Russian gas at the start of 2011.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

The head of Bulgaria’s sale body has confirmed media reports that nobody knows yet who stands behind the two Austria-registered bidders for the state-owned tobacco giant Bulgartabac, Novinite.com writes. Earlier this week it emerged that only three companies will submit binding bids for the privatization of Bulgartabac Holding and only one of them is a strategic investor – British American Tobacco. The other two companies are registered in Austria – CB Family Office Service and BT Invest. BT Invest is an Austrian investment fund, while CB Family Office Service is a consultancy based in Graz, Austria.

“These are financial groups and still nothing can be said with absolute certainty about the true owners behind them,” Emil Karanikolov, Executive Director of the Agency for Privatization and Post Privatization Control, told Dnevnik daily when asked whether these could be Bulgarian nationals. Karanikolov said that CB Family Office Service is wholly owned by the Austrian Capital Bank (Capital Bank – Oesterreich), part of Grawe. In Bulgaria it is represented by the insurance company of the same name.

“BT Invest is one of the three biggest financial groups in Russia,” he added, citing the documents, which have been processed so far.

“But it is entirely possible that the two companies manage foreign assets,” Karanikolov explained. Meanwhile Trud daily reported that the other bidder – BT Invest – was registered on April 14 this year and is associated with a Cyprus investment holding company and the second largest Russian bank VTB. The company General Manager Johannes Pepelnik refused to say who stands behind the potential buyer, the daily reported.

The agency for privatization control has also declined to disclose further information about the two bidders, saying that only two offers have been opened so far.

(Mariela Zamfirova, 11 July 2011)

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About Johann Brandstätter

Photojournalist and documentary photographer based in Bulgaria, working mainly in the Balkans and the Middle East. Conflicts & crises, social and environmental issues, defense & military, travel, transportation.
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