Chantal Hughes: Bulgarian authorities to suspend South Stream until it meets EU laws3 June 2014 | 14:39 | Bulgarian National Radio
Chantal Hughes: As I have reminded many times already, it is essential that Bulgaria, as all other countries, implements thoroughly the rules of the European contracts and the norms of the internal markets. In this particular case I mean these rules which have to do with the assignment of public procurements. We are concerned that these rules have been violated and that is why we sent an official letter to the Bulgarian authorities to ask for information about their actions and plans.
Host: Such letters are the first step towards an infringement procedure which can end with a trial in the European Court, is that correct?
Chantal Hughes: Indeed, this is the first stage of the infringement procedure. It can indeed bring us to the European Court but we always try to solve the issues with the country in question before going so far. At this stage, we simply want more information. We also want the Bulgarian authorities to suspend the South Stream project until the discussions are underway and until there is a complete compliance with the European legislation.
Host: Do you really expect that the Bulgarian authorities will do that, especially if you take into consideration the pressure coming from Russia, which is no secret to the EC and considering the fact that the construction agreements have already been signed with different companies?
Chantal Hughes: The agreements can be already signed but the real work on the construction has not started yet. Thus, we want the Bulgarian authorities to suspend the project and we expected them to observe this request.
Host: You have been in contact with the Bulgarian Government for a long time, discussing this specific issue and exchanging information. Does it mean that that you are not happy with the communication so far and as a consequence undertake the infringement procedures?
Chantal Hughes: Yes, we have been in touch for a while. This is a matter of information exchange and of achieving a greater clarity on what must and must not be done. The information that we have to this point, shows that the rules of the assignment of public procurements have been violated. And this is the reason for the infringement procedures. What is more, this is a kind of emergency situation, because as you have pointed out the project’s implementation may very soon begin. The construction may start any minute now so we have to response in time. This explains why we have just now sent this official letter to the Bulgarian Government.
Host: Can you elaborate a bit more about what exactly are the problems with the assignment of public procurements? Is it something to do with the procedures, the terms of implementation or with the companies which were chosen?
Chantal Hughes: We have two main concerns. The first one is that South Stream Bulgaria is assigned to plan, to finance, to construct and to manage the gas pipe without the procedures to be transparent and clear enough as we expect them to be. You know that the European contracts demand transparency, indiscrimination, and equal opportunities. This is a matter of justice for anybody concerned. And the second problem we find is the possibility of successive contracts. I mean that conditions have emerged, under which South Stream Bulgaria may hire subcontractor companies, especially ones from Russia and Bulgaria, which may be granted with certain preferences, instead of the assignment to be officially declared in the EU paper. This is again in contradiction with the rules against discrimination practices and the provision of equal opportunities and these principles are of great importance to us and we demand that they are strictly observed.
Host: Bulgaria is not the only member-state that wants to construct South Stream. Have you encountered any similar problems with some of the other countries?
Chantal Hughes: That is correct; Bulgaria is not the only country where this project is speeding up. But here the issue is an urgent one as the construction process has almost begun and we have found out about these violations concerning the assignment of public procurements. Of course, we will monitor how the project develops in the other countries as well and will expect and require both Hungary and Austria, and the other states to thoroughly obey the European legislation. There is certainly no pressure on one country on the account of another.
Host: So Bulgaria, as the first one to start the construction process will kind of develop the regulations under which the construction must or must not take place.
Chantal Hughes: The construction of the gas pipe in Bulgaria is at a more advanced stage and this is why we are in such a situation, but we will definitely monitor what has been happening in the other countries as well. Don’t doubt about it.
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