Bulgarian socialist coalition agreed


BULGARIA: At least three parties will sign a pact today to join a Socialist-led grand coalition, ending a stalemate jeopardising Bulgaria's plan to join the European Union in 2007.

The Balkan state has been rudderless since June 25th, when inconclusive elections sparked a struggle between the Socialists and former king Simeon Saxe-Coburg's incumbent centrists over who should lead Bulgaria.

Analysts had feared the dispute could lead to new elections and halt EU-required reforms, which might prompt Brussels to delay the country's entry by a year. However, in last-ditch talks yesterday, the Socialists agreed to form a cabinet with at least their ethnic-Turkish MRF allies and Mr Saxe-Coburg's National Movement for Simeon II.

"We've made a big step forward in talks and they are expected to be finalised," Socialist spokesman Angel Naidenov said. "Tomorrow, there will be a meeting between the parties' leaders, at which all questions will be cleared up. An agreement will be signed tomorrow for sure."

Another party in the talks, the right-of-centre BNU, had not yet agreed to join the coalition, Mr Naidenov said.

He said there was a "high level of agreement" for Socialist leader Sergei Stanishev to become prime minister. The parties would also agree on a finance minister and make EU entry the government's top priority.

The agreement, could face a parliamentary confidence vote on Wednesday. If approved, the government must quickly complete an action plan including overhauling the slow, corruption-prone judicial system before the EU Commission issues an October report on Bulgaria's readiness to join.

EU officials say the report is unlikely to recommend a date for Bulgarian accession, but a failure to complete reforms would significantly hurt Sofia's chances of joining on time. - (Reuters)