World Bank Executive Director Wijffels Met With PM Stanishev And Finance Minister Oresharski Yesterday

Finance Minister Plamen Oresharski met yesterday with Herman Wijffels, Executive Director of the World Bank Netherlands Constituency, who is here on a two-day visit, his first to Bulgaria since he took office in November 2006, the Finance Ministry said.

Wijffels's visit is part of tours of the Netherlands Constituency countries, whose interests he represents on the Board of Executive Directors, BTA reports.

Oresharski thanked Wijffels for the constructive relations between Bulgaria and the World Bank team. The finance minister stressed there were no differences on key points, dialog was very good and the World Bank team was very responsive to Bulgaria's requests.

Oresharski said that Bulgaria, which is in a new environment as an EU member, is faced with many challenges as well as with many opportunities. The finance minister is confident that the country will maintain its fiscal stability and will continue its economic development and its policy of budget surpluses. The projected minimum for 2008 is proposed to be set at 2.5 per cent of GDP. Oresharski said it was difficult to plan large surpluses, which the general public found hard to understand.

He recalled that Bulgaria used to be criticized for its insufficiently transparent fiscal policy, but had made considerable progress.

Wijffels expressed satisfaction with the Bank's good partnership with Bulgaria in the three strategic priorities - productivity and employment, fiscal stability and absorption of EU funds, and social inclusion - for which loans were agreed. Oresharski informed the World Bank official that the loan package agreed by the State was being handled as scheduled.

Wijffels said the World Bank would continue supporting reform in the social sphere and education, paying special attention to children and young people. Oresharski assured the World Bank official that the government was taking steps to prioritize education and was taking measures to decentralize school management and reform the education system as a whole.

Regarding the pension system, Oresharski explained that it was a three-pillar system, whose reform began in 1999 with the implementation of a World Bank project. Oresharski also told Wijffels that in 2006 the State created a demographic reserve, a Silver Fund, to safeguard the financing of the first pillar of the pension system given the poor demographic structure of the population. He also noted the good results of the second and third pillars of the pension system.

The World Bank will continue to assist in the reforms of the social and education sector, with special attention to the education of children and young people, Wijffels said at a
meeting with Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev.

Stanishev said that education is a priority sector for the Bulgarian government and its work in the sector focuses on greater decentralization of school management and reforms.

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin also met with Herman Wijffels, the Foreign Ministry said. The sides discussed relations between the World Bank and Bulgaria and the prospects for cooperation in the coming years. Kalfin highly commended the World Bank's role and assistance in Bulgaria's economic transformation, especially in maintaining financial stability.

Kalfin briefed Wijffels on the government's economic priorities after Bulgaria joined the EU. The two discussed financial stability, the curbing of inflationary processes, fiscal and tax policies. Ways to enhance the competitiveness of the Bulgarian economy and its sustainable development were also on the agenda. The sides also talked about the high social expectations of the public after Bulgaria became an EU member.

Kalfin identified the need for larger foreign investment in key infrastructure projects and for effective use of money from the EU Structural and Cohesion Funds. It was noted that privatization had entered its final stage. The sides also noted the foreigners' strong interest in real property in Bulgaria.

Global warming and its impact on the world economy was also high on the agenda. Wijffels talked about the experience of the Netherlands in seeking new ways to increase energy efficiency by using renewable sources. For his part, Kalfin stressed the importance of investments in this area. He said Bulgaria was becoming more focused on using the energy of wind, the sun and other renewable sources.

Kalfin and Wijffels exchanged views on the globalization of the economy and the role of the international institutions.

Meeting with Wijffels, Economy and Energy Minister Peter Dimitrov discussed programme implementation in the areas of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency. Dimitrov confirmed the government's intention to encourage investments in IT as a way of strengthening the competitiveness of the Bulgarian economy.

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