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440. Bulgaria and San Marino sign tourism cooperation agreement

Frog News: 2009-06-12

An inter-governmental agreement for cooperation in the travel sector between the two countries will be signed on May 19 in the ministry of economy building.

Its main objectives entail greater mutual awareness of the history, culture and traditions of their people. The parties will focus on improving cooperation between trade enterprises, organizations and institutions of the two countries involved in tourism. Exchange of experts and know-how will be encouraged. Fabio Berardi, minister of tourism and sports of San Marino and Marino Ercolani Cassadei, ambassador of the Republic of San Marino to Bulgaria, will lead the delegation. The visit will continue until May 20. The initiative is hosted by the Bulgarian Tourism Agency, whose representatives and Mr. Mladen Mutafchiisky, honorary consul of San Marino in Bulgaria, will meet the delegation. Mr. Mutafchiisky will treat his guests to an elegant dinner at his luxury restaurant Castello de San Marino in Boyana, a suburb of Sofia.

439. Tunnel project under Shipka peak accelerates

Sofia Echo: 2009-06-09

The Road Infrastructure National Agency has initiated a new ambitious scheme that maps out the construction of a ring road around the town of Gabrovo, north of the Balkan mountain range in central Bulgaria, in addition to the tunnel which will be excavated under the mountain range, bypassing the Shipka summit pass, and connecting the town with southern Bulgaria, Stroitelstvo Gradut has reported.

The deadline for firms to submit their applications for the project, which is designated as part of Corridor 9, is June 15. Potential construction companies will be selected on the grounds of the Concession Act which does not envision a preliminary selection process of the participants. Depending on preliminary procedures such as investor meetings, design plans and cost calculations, scheduled to be conducted at the beginning of July, the road agency is to commence the actual preparation for concession or for a tender.

Concession bids meanwhile, are to be submitted in the summer of 2010. Since the project is not part of a European Union Operational Programme, the funding of its construction will be allocated in the budget of 2011.

"So far, one technical design for the project has already been prepared by engineer Dimitar Hvarlev," said Dena Palankova, manager of Patproekt, as quoted by Stroitelstvo Gradut.

"However, before the blueprint is taken to any further stage, it should be upheld in accordance with all EU requirements" she said.

The route traverses an arduous mountainous region, which will make the construction work increasingly demanding. Apart from the tunnel snaking underneath the mountain, estimated to be at a total length of 3.22km with a height of of 4.8m, there will be four additional smaller auxiliary tunnels as well as a total of 10 bridges incorporated within the tunnel system.

438. Bulgaria elected its 17 MEPs

News BG: 2009-06-08

Six political formations surpass the 5.8% barrier and sent their representatives in the European parliament.

This show the Exit polls results of Sova Harris agency at 93% processed protocols and 38% election activity.

GERB are first with 24.68%, BSP second with 18.30% followed by MRF with 15.55%, Ataka 11.64%, the Blue coalition with 7.81% and NDSV with 7.61%.

The surprise on these elections was the surpassing of the election barrier by NDSV. The leader of their list Meglena Kuneva won a mandate in the European parliament.

According to the prognosis results GERB will sent 5 deputies to the European parliament, BSP 4, MRF 3, Ataka 2, the Blue coalition 2, and NDSV 1.

The first comment of the chairman of GERB Tsvetan Tsvetanov is that the difference with BSP could be higher during the Bulgarian parliamentary elections.

The big surprise according to Tsvetanov is the parties Leader and NDSV. According to information from GERB, however, the parties who have bought votes at the most were MRF, Leader and RZS.

Take it, that the first half was weaker and the second will be stronger, said Tsvetanov and added that his party put higher aims to itself for the next elections.

I would call it sensation, this is a normal election process in which the people decide who are these 17 people, which to be sent to the European parliament, commented Meglena Kuneva, leader of the NDSV list.

What I am interested in is in what parliament these deputies will go, added she.

46% is the election activity for the EU, informed Kuneva. Malta did best with 82% activity.

I am very happy there is growing of the activity in three of the new member states Lithuania, Estonia and Bulgaria, stressed Meglena Kuneva.

437. New court house in Varna will be completed by 2013

Sofia Echo: 2009-06-06

Varna's new court house, a lingering concept since 1937, and which 'commenced' construction on four occasions in the past 72 years, will finally be constructed.

" I hope that by 2013 the judicial branch and institutions in Varna will have a new building," said the former head of the municipal court in Varna, and current Justice Minister Miglena Tacheva, as quoted by Stroitelstvo Gradut.

"The project will cost 130 million leva, covered by the national Budget," she was quoted as saying.

The project was worked out by Dizarch OOD with chief architects Delyan Zhechev, whereas the company entrusted with overall construction is Valex EOOD.

The enterprise has been hailed by the design team as "functional, economic, practical, aesthetic and imposing. Furthermore, the building has to be enduring," the statement reads.

The new court house will be perched on Dr Piskyuliev Boulevard, Nikola Kunev Street and Nikola Daskalov Street, on a parcel of 6403 sq m, with a gross area of 41 787 sq m.

Three underground levels will assure capacity for 297 parking spaces. The facility will accommodate quarters for the court police, administrative centre, a storage centre and an archive centre. The ground floor will be designated for customer service and the general public, document procession, registrations and other uses.

Six floors will be allocated to accommodate all the court rooms, 33 in total, and 404 offices whereas the top floor will be transformed into a large roof garden, hosting the magistrate's club and a large library. The building will be served by 18 lifts.

436. In the heavens

Sofia Echo: 2009-06-03

A weekend of festivities marked the official launch of Banskos summer season, including the traditional Between Three Mountains outdoor concert and folklore singing and dancing, as well as a sumptuous food festival.

Banskos winter season was particularly action-packed this year as the town hosted six national and three international skiing events, including the Balkan Biathlon Cup and the Womens Alpine Skiing World Cup. But now Bansko, the doyen of ski resorts, is trying to relaunch itself as a possible summer destination, an alternative to the bustle of the Black Sea for those who prefer a more peaceful break.

Nestled at 925m, between the Pirin, Rila and Rhodope Mountains, Bansko is equidistant (150km) from both Sofia and Plovdiv and just 60km from Blagoevgrad. Towering over the town is Pirins majestic peak of Vihren at 2914m, snowcapped even in the hottest months. One of the areas main attractions, the magnificent Pirin National Park, is home to 180 lakes and 87 peaks above 2500m as well as 113 caves, 159 different species of bird and 45 species of mammals.

Bansko has seen something of a building blitz in recent years. Investment in tourism during the period 2001/2006 amounted to more than 200 million leva, creating several thousand jobs in the tourism and construction sectors. More than 100 hotels have been built in the past two years alone, ranging from small family establishments to luxurious four-star complexes, creating a total capacity of 10 000 beds in the town. Bansko now has 462 restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs and 83 grocery shops.

Plans for the new season

At the official launch of the summer season on May 23, mayor Alexander Kravarov hosted a news conference at which he said that Bansko had enjoyed 60 per cent occupancy during the winter, a figure acclaimed by the panel as a success given the sharp economic downturn, and that 30 per cent occupancy - of Banskos 280 hotels - would be judged satisfactory in the summer.

Among the towns most popular summer attractions is the International Jazz Festival. This years festival, running between August 8 and August 13, will gather stars from all over the world, including Dutch saxophonist Candy Dulfer.

Kravarov said that Bansko was also focusing on developing its historical and eco tourism. But he was also carrying out more than four million leva worth of works on mountain paths and sports alleys as well as building two giant sports centres and new football grounds and tennis courts. Repairs were also being effected to the infrastructure in the old quarter of Sveta Troitsa as well as churches and museums.

The mayor said that they had an annual budget of 26 million leva, of which only six million comes from the state.

In response to a couple of critical questions from the press, Kravarov said that he and the municipality would try to persuade hotel owners to create more green areas around hotels. He denied responsibility for perceived overbuilding on the basis that private unregulated agricultural land had been sold to building contractors.

During the weekend, a delegation was shown around some of Banskos main attractions, including the Nikola Vaptsarov Museum - home of the famous anti-fascist poet murdered by Bulgarias fascist government during World War 2 - the Neofit Rilksi house (home to one of the most celebrated teachers and figures of the Bulgarian National Revival) and the Sveta Troitsa church.

Many hotels were also shown to visitors during the weekend, including some exquisite guest houses offering rooms for as little as 20 leva a night in the summer.

435. Bulgarian Land Development starts controversial project

Sofia Echo: 2009-06-02

Residential property developer Bulgarian Land Development (BLD) will start work on its July Morning holiday village, the company said in a filing to the London Stock Exchange (LSE), where it is listed.

Set to rise on a site near the town of Kavarna, in northeastern Bulgaria, the development has been put on the list of "destroyers of Bulgarian nature" as the investor plans to "appropriate the coastal line as well," environmentalists claim.

Despite the strong reaction from conservation groups, the project was awarded all the necessary permits from the local authorities. BLD said in its statement that it secured enough funding to launch a scaled-down version of the project, whose first building would have 55 apartments, 41 of which had already been sold.

The building, which will stand on an area of 3600 sq m, should be completed in June 2010 at a cost of about 2.2 million euro.

The entire holiday village is planned to sprawl over 92 000 sq m, accommodating 351 homes, a spa centre, restaurants, small football pitches and mini-golf courses as well as five swimming pools. The total investment in the project is estimated at 40 million euro.

434. Bulgaria property returns to favour with British buyers

Sofia Echo: 2009-06-01

Bulgaria is regaining its popularity with British real estate buyers, according to the first quarter results of major UK portal Property Abroad. Bulgaria became a preferred destination during the real estate boom, but credit crunch in 2008 and the sudden oversupply on the local market have altered market dynamics.

Still, Bulgaria has managed to reclaim some lost territory, according to Property Abroad director Les Calvert. "Not a major jump by any stretch of the imagination, but for us, immersed in the industry, watching and reading the negative press about Bulgaria and seeing thousands of British buyers rushing to sell-up, this is quite a pleasant surprise for us," he said.

Such is the story of Carl Froch, World Boxing Council super middleweight champion, who bought property in Bulgaria from Joe Upchurch, managing director of Aston Lloyd.

Froch has said that his purchase of property in Bulgaria was "just as satisfying as delivering a well-placed left hook", and it is likely to prove a lucrative one, as well.

"What is the point of having money in the bank which is earning nothing?" said Froch, 31, who hails from Nottingham. "I have been investing between 8800 and 44 000 pounds sterling in property in Bulgaria and Turkey over the past 12 months."

Froch has poured money into small flats with the intention of renting them out to local residents, rather than seasonal holidaymakers.

According to the Daily Mail, in 2008 revenue generated by tourists rose by 8.4 per cent over the previous year, with demand from foreign visitors and Bulgarian nationals expected to remain stable in 2009, particularly along the Black Sea coast. The healthy forecasts are attributed to the advertising campaign backed by the Bulgarian Government, worth the equivalent of 3.5 million pounds sterling, meant to promote tourism.

"The rise can be accredited to Bulgaria's economic performance: Bulgaria is now one of only four European Union member states forecast to avoid recession this year, and forecast to do so in the most impressive way; strong growth with a firm handle on the budget deficit. That and the low-prices of course," analyst Julie Liddle said, quoted by Property Abroad.

The British based firm is currently in the market in Bulgaria, advertising hundreds of real estate for rent, sale, resale and off plan, available for less than 10 000 pounds sterling.

Ross Elder, managing director of holidaylettings.co.uk, was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail: "Inquiries for Bulgaria in the first quarter of 2009 are up nine per cent. It's a fantastic holiday option if you are seeking value for money on accommodation, flights and food."

Simon Conn, a property consultant for the 58-room four-star apartment hotel in Kostinbrod, close to Sofia, where Carl Froch has invested in a suite, has said: "In good city locations, such as Sofia and the better-quality coastal developments, there are long-term possibilities."

433. Blue Cards

Sofia Echo: 2009-05-29

Bulgaria is among 27 European Union member states that have two years to pass into national law the provisions of a European Council directive on a "Blue Card" system to ease residence and work permits for highly qualified foreign employees.

The Blue Card system, approved earlier this year by the European Parliament, was given the nod by the European Council on May 25, the same day that it adopted a directive aimed at fighting illegal immigration by prohibiting the employment of illegally staying third-country nationals, laying down minimum common standards on sanctions and measures to be applied in the EU member states against employers who infringe the ban.

According to a statement on the European Commission website, the new rules seek to put an end to abuses by unscrupulous employers who conclude contracts with people illegally resident in the EU, paying them low salaries amid poor labour conditions.

Employers in the EU will be obliged to require that before taking up employment, a third-country national has a valid residence permit or other authorisation to be in the country.

Employers will have to keep for at least the duration of the employment, a copy or record of the residence permit or authorisation for stay for inspection by the relevant authorities of the member states.

Employers will have to notify the relevant authorities of the start of employment of third-country nationals within a period laid down by each member state.

Penalties for infringements of the prohibition will include financial sanctions, which will increase according to the number of illegally employed foreigners. Employers will have to pay the costs of return if an illegal employee is deported.

Other sanctions may also be applicable to employers of illegal workers, such as exclusion from entitlement to public funding or from participation in public tenders.

Currently in Bulgaria, employers caught with illegal foreign workers face fines of 20 000 leva for each worker, and the employees themselves could be fined 5000 leva.

Labour and Social Policy Minister Emilia Maslarova said in July 2008 that companies found to be repeat offenders against labour laws would be excluded from participation in EU operational programmes and all other EU funding of projects in Bulgaria. This is an approach not dissimilar from that approved by the European Council.

Approval by EU institutions on moves against illegal employment of foreign employees may be seen against the background of the issue being increasingly sensitive throughout the EU, not only politically especially for right-wing and nationalist parties but also economically as domestic labour markets feel threatened by competition from foreign workers.

The Blue Card system approved by the European Council establishes more attractive conditions for third-country workers to take up highly qualified employment in EU member states, by creating a fast-track procedure for issuing a special residence and work permit.

The Blue Card will facilitate access to the labour market to their holders and will entitle them to a series of socio-economic rights and favourable conditions for family reunification and movement across the EU.

The directive sets out the common criteria to be set by the EU member states for applicants of the Blue Card without prejudice to more advantageous conditions provided for by national laws.

An EU Blue Card will be between one and four years, and may be renewed. A Blue Card may also be issued or renewed for shorter periods to cover a work contract period plus three months.

432. Carrefour enters Mall Pleven

Sofia Echo: 2009-05-28

French retail chain Carrefour will open a store in Mall Pleven, developer Aladin Investment said on May 27, as quoted by Dnevnik daily. The hypermarket chain would rent 2 400 sq m on the shopping centre's ground floor, Aladin Harfan, owner of Aladin Investment, was quoted as saying.

Mall Pleven, a 80 million leva development, is still under construction but is expected to be completed by the end of the year. "Construction is progressing according to schedule," Harfan was quoted as saying.

The shopping centre is expected to open in early 2010 and has generated "heightened interest" from retailers, according to Colliers International, contracted to rent out the 100 stores that will spread over 17 500 sq m in the finished mall.

Currently, there are eight Carrefour projects under construction nationwide. The first hypermarket of the French group opened for business at the end of March 2009 in Bourgas, Bulgaria's second largest Black Sea city.

The first Carrefour hypermarket in Sofia is expected to open in February 2010 on the Tsarigradsko Chaussee Boulevard.

431. Bulgaria at IMEX Frankfurt

Sofia Echo: 2009-05-27

Bulgaria will be at the global exhibition of congressional tourism in the world, at IMEX Frankfurt, which starts on May 26. Bulgaria will have four exhibitors present: the National Palace of Culture (NDK), Astral Holidays, Bulgarian VIP Tours and Bulgaria Holidays, as reported by the State Tourism Agency.

The IMEX exhibition in Frankfurt will last until May 28. More than 3500 exhibitors from more than 150 countries will attend IMEX 2009.

The show targets companies specialised in research, planning and organisation and make budgetary decisions for association meetings, congresses or conventions. It provides insight for clients involved in corporate meetings and hospitality, exhibitions, incentive travel programmes, new product launches, promotional events, road shows, seminars and training programmes.

The Forum demonstrates the value of the meetings industry by focusing on return on investment and benchmarking. The Forum allows politicians and leaders of major international associations to share experiences and information.

Within the parameters of the show, the exhibiting categories include: national and regional tourist offices, convention and visitor bureaus, hotels, conference centres, cruise liners, technology providers, airlines, luxury trains, transportation companies, ground agents, exhibition centres, spa resorts, trade associations, destination management companies, event management specialists, car rental, golf destinations and trade publications.

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