Bulgarian Prime Minister Confers with EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Almunia

Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stranishev, who is taking part in the 4th Cohesion Forum:
Growing Regions, Growing Europe, conferred here on Thursday with EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, BTA reports.

"We discussed economic and monetary issues of extraordinary significance to both the EU and Bulgaria, and our country's economic development and financial position. We also commented on Bulgaria's bid to join the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM II) or the Eurozone, which is very important strategically for our country," Stanishev told Bulgarian and foreign journalists after the session.

The sides discussed in detail the Bulgarian Government's present and future policy, conducted in coordination with the European Commission, to guarantee Bulgaria's financial stability and avert any potential risks.

It was noted at the session that external risks, such as the problems in the US banking system, have given rise to considerable tension within the EU at large and in the Euro-zone in particular in recent months. "The European Commission expects from the Bulgarian Government a policy of predictability and stability safeguarding Bulgaria's medium- and long-term development as well as entry into the ERM II nd then into the
Euirozone itself.

Almunia was highly appreciative of a number of the actions taken by the Bulgarian Government, including the policy of budget surpluses.

"This is not our whim. Unfortunately, this is a necessity, considering the numerous existing risks. I am referring above all to the current account deficit, the trade deficit, which is
a concern for our partners," the PM emphasized.

"I am saying this within the context of the steadily escalating demands from various sectors for a 100 per cent wage increase. We cannot possibly do it because, even if we want to, this would spell more risks of a higher inflation to the people and to our country as a whole," Stanishev added.

"Bulgaria is among the EU Member States with high inflation, bu it does not have the highest inflation," the PM noted. At the session, the sides took into consideration the external factors which influence the EU-wide rate of inflation, such as the poor grain harvest and the record-high food prices in the world. "This affects inflation in all European countries, actual inflation exceeds expectations everywhere," Stanishev said, citing Romania, where August inflation was 5.5 per cent, "way above Bulgaria's figure."

The European Commission attributes the higher inflation in some EU countries in part to a too fast rise of income.

No specific dates were mentioned about Bulgaria's membership in the Eurozone. "We must approach the Eurozone step by step. The important thing is to reach agreement on Bulgaria's participation in the ERM II before accession itself. We must be realistic and first target doing our homework, which will benefit us and our economic development, and then join the Eurozone," Stanishev stressed.

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