Government: Parliamentary Republic
Area: 110,993 km2
GDP per capita: €8,695
Currency: Bulgarian Lev (BGN)
For the 2014-2020 financial framework of European Structural and Investments Funds, Bulgaria was allocated a total of €9.9 billion, which, added to a national contribution of €1.8 billion, see Bulgaria reaching a total budget of €11.7 billion to be invested in various areas.
In fact, this budget is intended to be used through 10 national and regional programmes to:
- Increase energy efficiency in households, industry, services and transport;
- Upgrade Bulgaria’s transport infrastructure, improve connectivity between regions and with neighbouring countries;
- Stimulate trade and tourism;
- Strengthen SMEs’ knowledge-based competitiveness by supporting innovation; in companies and the creation of innovative start-ups;
- Improve the infrastructure for innovation and research;
- Contribute to increasing employment rate with a special emphasis on the young, the elderly and disadvantaged population groups (e.g. Roma);
- Advance social inclusion of vulnerable groups and underprivileged people;
- Improve the access to healthcare for several thousand children, including those with disabilities;
- Boost the qualifications of job seekers, young people, university students as well as thousands of secondary and high school students who will receive training in real work environments.
The Bulgarian government has been focused on investing the budget of the European Structural and Investment Funds mainly to improve environmental protection and resource efficiency. To do so, the government of Bulgaria assigned more than €2.5 billion, coming from four different Funds: €1.2 billion coming from the Cohesion Fund (CF), €760 million allocated by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), €500 million assigned the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), and the remaining €30 million given by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF). As shown in Chart 1, the second theme of investment in the agenda of the Bulgarian government is the development of network infrastructures in two strategic sectors of the economy, transport and energy.
The CF and ERDF are helping Bulgaria reconstructing railways and building more than 600 km of new roads and highways, with €1.3 billion and €300 million respectively invested by the two funds. Extremely relevant for Bulgaria is also the advancement of social inclusion and the improvement of the lives of the underprivileged: the EAFRD, ERDF and the European Social Fund (ESF) have allocated €650 million, €280 million and €540 million to improve the abilities, opportunities, and dignity of those disadvantaged on the basis of their identity.
To fully understand the EU funding budget of the Bulgarian government, Chart 2 gives an overview of the total available budget divided into the shares that each European Fund has in the total budget of €11.7 billion.
With 35.7%, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) is the largest contributor to European funding in Bulgaria, granting more than €4 billion alone. The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) also holds an important role, as it accounts for 24.8%, around €3 billion, while the Cohesion Fund (CF) grants €2.7 billion and reports a 22.9% share in the total budget. Fourth is the European Social Fund (ESF) that sees an allocation of €1.7 billion towards social topics and a share in the total budget of 14.7%. With only 1% and 0.9% each, the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) contribute for only €220 million to the Bulgarian budget of EU funding.
The country’s absorption rates are higher compared to the European Union average. With a 33% share of spent funding from the ESIF, Bulgaria is 5% above the European average of 28%, meaning that almost €4 billion have already been invested. Bulgaria is also very effective when it comes to assigning funds: in fact, the country has allocated 72% of its total budget, 7% above the EU average of 65%, meaning that €8.4 billion have been assigned to projects and other initiatives.
To conclude, Bulgaria is registering great performances in terms of planned, assigned and spent funds, confirming the evidence that the country is among the leading countries regarding EU funding absorption rates, surpassing many larger and most powerful EU members.