Bulgaria’s results in terms of air quality have improved, Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov told a briefing in Sofia on Thursday, emerging from talks with EU Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius.
Sinkevičius confirmed Bulgaria’s progress with ambient air quality, but noted that the optimum level has not been achieved. Sofia is one of the cities with the best electrified public transport, he pointed out. “I am glad to see the progress in Sofia regarding the electrification of the transport system,“ the EU Commissioner noted and added that it has a good impact on the cleanliness of the air.
Denkov said that he and Sinkevičius had a matter-of-fact and meaningful conversation in which they touched upon the most important environmental matters such as the green transition, harmful emissions, air quality, waste charges and landfills management. The Struma Motorway was also on the agenda of the talks.
“Efforts to close the most polluting heating utilities and electric power plants continue,” the Prime Minister said. “Municipalities are carrying out programmes for replacing solid-fuel heaters with environment-friendly devices. The programmes will continue to be implemented and will be expanded.”
Sofia’s Achilles’ heel is in the energy sector, especially the areas that use coal, Sinkevičius noted. He pointed out that there should be a swift reaction regarding the issue because more than 10,000 citizens die annually because of air pollution.
Concerning the green transition, Denkov recalled that Bulgaria lost BGN 200 million at the end of 2022 after failing to draw up territorial plans.
He said: “The most difficult part is to start substantive negotiations with the local communities and the trade unions to find ways to minimize all risks associated with the social cost of the green transition and identify the most efficient way to use the abundant resources which are available: BGN 1.4 billion for the just transition alone. The question is how to make a gradual transition, to phase out the capacities and reduce pollution while at the same time using the resources to protect the people who will be affected by the changes and develop those areas with new technologies which will make them some of the most modern regions. This is feasible, but only if we make up for the delay and use the EU’s potential. If not, we can keep our heads buried in the sand, and by the end of the year we will have lost this BGN 1.4 billion in resources.”
“The Prime Minister and I talked mainly about the green transition. I am very grateful to him and his government for recognizing the importance of the Green Deal,” Sinkevičius stated and pointed out that reforms in this area, enshrined in the Recovery and Resilience Plan, were also discussed with Denkov. He added that there are deadlines for their implementation, so it is important to implement them quickly.
The Prime Minister noted that the former caretaker government discontinued negotiations with a company which was interested in investing in a battery plant in Bulgaria, and now the company will build a plant in Romania. He said: “We have not given up on our idea about a battery plant. Negotiations are in progress, we are trying to fund manufacturers who can make batteries in Bulgaria if we persuade them to come.”
Discussing September 5 floods on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, Denkov said the cataloguing of the damage has started. “As soon as there is a result, we will discuss it with the European Commission, but there is a three-month timeframe, so we have time to react, nothing has been missed. As far as repairing damaged infrastructure is concerned, we will not wait for the European Commission, we will use national funding.”
The EU Commissioner said that he and Prime Minister Denkov had discussed a number of other areas where Bulgaria had achieved a good result in the procedures for non-implementation of EU legislation, as well as the new draft legislative instruments at EU level and how they would affect the Bulgarian economy. “It is too early to talk about new non-implementation procedures. Let us first pay attention to those that are currently in process,” Sinkevicius explained.
On waste, he pointed out that Bulgaria was among the 14 member states that had not met the targets for the current period, but much progress has been made. He said that a total of 113 landfills were closed and this was an important step forward. Bulgaria is the last country in the EU that still has a different system for calculating garbage fees at local level, Sinkevičius pointed out. He added that the fees are still calculated on the basis of the price of the property and not on the amount of waste, and the calculation should be based on the amount of pollution.