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Bulgarian Official:  Country Making Economic Progress with Help from EU - 2004-07-22

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy says his country is on track to join the European Union on January 1, 2007. Mr. Passy spoke at a Washington forum Thursday sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Mr. Passy says the European Union has registered three significant accomplishments in recent years. They include the launch of the euro currency in 1999, expansion this year to include 10 new states and an agreement, also this year, on a new constitution. Member states will begin the process of ratifying the constitution later this year.

Mr. Passy, a 37-year old mathematician and computer scientist, says Bulgaria too has registered significant recent gains. They include membership this year in the NATO defense alliance, a commitment for early membership in the E.U., and an impressive five percent economic growth rate. Mr. Passy says Bulgaria stands to gain over $4 billion in aid from the European Union.

Bulgaria is this year's chairman of the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a 55-nation forum whose members include Russia and the United States. In his role as chairman in office of the OSCE Mr. Passy recently visited Kosovo, the scene of anti-Serb riots in March that left over one thousand people homeless. Mr. Passy said Kosovo's majority Albanians cannot expect to benefit from inter-ethnic violence.

"We told this to all of the leaders of the Kosovo Albanians," he notes. "We met also with the representatives of the Serb minority there. We visited the camps where the homeless people were taken. It is a tragedy, a big tragedy."

Mr. Passy would not say whether he favors independence for Kosovo, where NATO peacekeepers continue to provide security five years after a NATO bombing campaign forced Serbian forces to withdraw from the province.