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Visa Information System: Bulgaria and Romania to gain read access in July

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The Commission has adopted a decision determining that as of July 2021, Bulgaria and Romania will gain read only access to the Visa Information System, the database connecting border guards at the EU's external borders with member states' consulates across the world.  Read only access means that these member states will be able to access information that already exists in the system, rather than entering new information. This comes after both countries successfully completed a series of technical tests required to connect to the system. Access to the Visa Information System means that Bulgaria and Romania will be able to see the visa history of an applicant, which will facilitate their processing of visa applications.

It will also allow Bulgarian and Romanian border guards to verify the validity and authenticity of Schengen visas issued by other member states against the data stored in the Visa Information System, helping prevent fraud and fight serious crime and terrorism, thus increasing security within the EU.  Read access to the Visa Information System will be necessary for Bulgaria and Romania to run the Entry/Exit System, expected to enter into operation in the first half of 2022. Full access to the Visa Information System would become possible once Bulgaria and Romania would be fully integrated within the Schengen area. The Commission has reiterated its call on the Council to take the necessary steps for Bulgaria and Romania to become part of the area without controls at internal borders in the Strategy towards a stronger and more resilient Schengen area presented in June this year.

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Traffic chaos unfolding at Romanian–Bulgarian border

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Bulgarian truck drivers are protesting at the border crossing over harsh traffic conditions. Bulgarian Transport Minister Gheorghi Todorov said that he will reach out to the Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean, for assistance in faster processing traffic entering Romania. There are complaints that truck drivers have to wait up to 30 hours to cross the Border Checkpoint, writes Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent.

Currently, there is no official information regarding why truck drivers have to wait 30 hours to cross an internal border of the European Union, a press release of the Chamber of Road Transporters shows.

There are several reasons for the increase of traffic at the Romanian Bulgarian border. As an internal EU border, the crossing should just a few minutes, but the border authorities carry out thorough checks due to increased immigration. This increases the time for checking a truck, border guards told the press. Each truck is checked with a carbon dioxide detector. If the amount of CO2 detected is too large, the vehicle is searched to see if there are any immigrants hiding illegally in trucks while drivers are resting.

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According to Bulgarian transport authorities another reason for the increased traffic is the return of workers to Western Europe and in addition to that, Albanians take a detour through Bulgaria in order to avoid crossing Serbia which has increased road taxes greatly in the last month.

Also Bulgaria entered the yellow zone of countries with a high epidemiological risk of coronavirus transmission and all those who come from this state are quarantined if they are not vaccinated or if they do not have a negative PCR test. Thus Romanians vacationing in Bulgaria tried to make their way back to their home country before new restrictions were enforced as to avoid quarantine.

In the last few days of August approximately 1.2 million people and over 300,000 vehicles crossed the border.

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Even the entry point into Bulgaria from Romania was not without issues. Many tourists were taken by surprise. With waiting queues stretching for over 5 km, vacation goers into Bulgaria were caught off guard.

Romanians can enter Bulgaria after showing the EU digital COVID certificate, proof of vaccination, testing or a similar document containing the same data as the EU COVID digital certificate.

Among the special categories of persons exempted from the requirement to present COVID documents upon entry into the Republic of Bulgaria are persons transiting Bulgaria.

Bulgaria has lately seen a spike in COVID-19 cases and new restrictions have been introduced. Bulgarian restaurants and bars will close at 22:00 local time starting September 7th, while indoor sports competitions will take place without spectators. Music festivals will be banned and theaters and cinemas will operate at a maximum of 50% capacity.

Bulgaria has the lowest rate of COVID-19 vaccination in the European Union, with Romania following suit.

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Bulgaria faces fresh elections as Socialists refuse to form a government

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Bulgaria's President Rumen Radev. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Pool

Bulgaria will head to its third national election this year, after the Socialists on Thursday (2 September) became the third political party to refuse to lead a government following July's inconclusive parliamentary election, writes Tsvetelia Tsolova, Reuters.

The Socialists gave up on plans to form a working government after their potential allies, the anti-establishment ITN party and two smaller anti-graft parties, refused to back them. The party will return the mandate to the president tomorrow (7 September).

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"We did our best and appealed for sense and responsibility, but it did not work out," Socialist leader Kornlia Ninova said.

President Rumen Radev faces having to dissolve parliament, appoint a new interim administration and call a snap poll within two months.

The new parliamentary election could be held as early as Nov. 7, or coincide with one of the two rounds of a presidential election, on 14 November or 21 November. Read more.

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The prolonged political uncertainty is hampering Bulgaria's ability to efficiently deal with a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and tap into hefty European Union's coronavirus recovery funds.

The Socialists' decision comes after both ITN, which narrowly won the July polls, and the centre-right GERB party of former premier Boyko Borissov gave up on attempts to form a government in the fractured parliament. Read more.

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EU Cohesion policy: €2.7 billion to support the recovery in Spain, Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary and Germany

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The Commission has approved the modification of six Operational Programmes (OP) for the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF) in Spain, Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary and Germany under REACT-EU for a total of €2.7 billion. In Italy, €1bn is added to the ERDF-ESF National Operational Programme for Metropolitan Cities. These resources aim to strengthen the green and digital transition as well as the resilience of metropolitan cities. €80 million are also earmarked to strengthen the social system in metropolitan cities. In Hungary, the Economic Development and Innovation Operational Programme (EDIOP) receives additional resources of €881m.

This money will be used for an interest-free working capital loan instrument to support more than 8,000 SMEs and support a wage subsidy scheme for workers in enterprises affected by the COVID-19 lockdown measures. In Spain, the ERDF Operational Programme for the Canary Islands will receive an additional amount of €402 million for protection equipment and infrastructure for health, including COVID-19 related R&D projects. The allocations also support the transition to a green and digital economy, including sustainable tourism. Almost 7,000 SMEs mainly from the tourism sector will receive support to overcome the financial difficulties triggered by the crisis of COVID-19. The region will also dedicate a significant part of the resources to social and emergency service infrastructure. In the region of Galicia, €305m thanks to REACT-EU top up the ERDF Operational Programme.

This allocation has been earmarked for products and services for health, the transition to a digital economy including digitalization of the administration and of SMEs. They also support ‘green' projects like R&D in forestry, bio-waste chain, urban mobility, intermodal transport, as well as fire prevention and renovation of health centres and schools. In Bulgaria, the ERDF OP 'Competitiveness and Innovation' receives an additional €120m. These resources will be used for working capital support for SMEs.

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It is estimated that some 2,600 SMEs should benefit from the support. In Germany, the region of Brandenburg will receive additional €30 million for its ERDF Operational Programme to support the tourism sector and the SMEs hit by the coronavirus pandemic and for digitalization measures in cultural institutions and chambers of crafts. REACT-EU is part of NextGenerationEU and provides €50.6bn additional funding (in current prices) over the course of 2021 and 2022 to Cohesion policy programmes.

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