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430. European Council approves Blue Card system for foreign workers

Sofia Echo: 2009-05-26

The European Council has adopted a directive aimed at fighting illegal immigration by prohibiting the employment of illegally staying third-country nationals, laying down minimum common standards on sanctions and measures to be applied in the EU member states against employers who infringe the ban.

According to a statement on the European Commission website on May 25 2009, the new rules seek to put an end to abuses by unscrupulous employers who conclude contracts with people illegally resident in the EU, paying them low salaries amid poor labour conditions.

Under the directive, employers in the EU will have the obligation to require that before taking up employment, a third-country national has a valid residence permit or other authorisation to be in the country.

Employers will have to keep for at least the duration of the employment, a copy or record of the residence permit or authorisation for stay for inspection by the relevant authorities of the member states.

Employers will have to notify the relevant authorities designated by member states of the start of employment of third-country nationals within a period laid down by each member

state.

Penalties for infringements of the prohibition will include financial sanctions, which will increase according to the number of illegally employed foreigners. Employers will have to pay the costs of return if an illegal employee is deported.

Other sanctions may also be applicable to employers of illegal workers, such as exclusion from entitlement to public funding or from participation in public tenders.

"The directive represents a step forward towards the fulfilment of the European Council commitment of having a set of clear, transparent and fair rules with the objective of strengthening co-operation between the EU member states against illegal employment and

with respect to the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the affected persons," the statement said.

The new legislation, which is line with the principles of the European convention for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms and the EU charter of fundamental rights, will strengthen the legal security of all involved, the statement said.

The directive is a response to the concerns that immigrants can be guaranteed that they will be able to live with dignity in the EU and have the same rights as those of the nationals of the recipient countries, according to the statement.

"By favouring dialogue and co-operation with countries of origin, the EU acknowledges that migration generates wealth both for third countries and for Europe, and contributes in a positive way to strengthening cultural diversity.

"For this reason, the EU promotes collaboration with countries of origin and countries of destination in order to match the migratory flux to the reception capacity of the countries of destination," the statement said.

The same day, the European Council adopted a directive aimed at facilitating conditions of entry and residence in the EU of third-country citizens for the purpose of highly qualified employment.

The directive establishes more attractive conditions for third-country workers to take up highly qualified employment in EU member states, by creating a fast-track procedure for issuing a special residence and work permit called the "EU Blue Card".

The Blue Card will facilitate access to the labour market to their holders and will entitle them to a series of socio-economic rights and favourable conditions for family reunification and movement across the EU.

The directive determines the common criteria to be set by the EU member states for applicants of the Blue Card without prejudice to more advantageous conditions provided for by national laws.

The period of validity of the EU Blue Card will be between one and four years, with possibility of renewal.

A Blue Card may also be issued or renewed for shorter periods to cover a work contract period plus three months.

After 18 months of legal residence in the first member state as an EU Blue Card holder, the person concerned and family members may move, under certain conditions, to a member state other than the first member state for the purpose of highly qualified employment.

Under the rules set by the directive, EU Blue Card holders will enjoy equal treatment with nationals of the member state issuing the Blue Card, as regards working conditions, including pay and dismissal; freedom of association; education, training and recognition of qualifications; a number of provisions in national law regarding social security and pensions; access to goods and services, including procedures for obtaining housing, information and counseling services; and free access to the entire territory of the member state concerned within the limits provided for by national law.

Following its publication in the official journal of the EU, member states will have two years to incorporate the new provisions into their domestic legislation, the European Council said.

429. Bansko officially launches summer season

Sofia Echo: 2009-05-25

A weekend of festivities marked the official launch of the summer season in Bansko, including a concert and folklore singing and dancing as well as a sumptuous food festival in the town's Pirin Hotel.

Mayor Alexander Kravarov headed a press conference in the Pirin Hotel also attended by representatives of Bansko's tourist association at which it was revealed that Bansko had enjoyed 60 per cent bed occupancy during the winter (something acclaimed by the panel as a success given the sharp economic downturn) and that 30 per cent occupancy (of Bankso's 280 hotels) would be judged a success in the summer.

The mayor revealed plans to expand the town's sporting facilities including tennis courts and football grounds and, in response to a couple of critical questions from the press, said that he and the municipality would endeavour to persuade hoteliers to create more green areas around their establishments. Kravarov said he wasn't responsible for any (perceived) over-building because private unregulated agricultural land had been sold to building contractors.

During the weekend a delegation was shown around some of Bansko's main attractions, including the Nikola Vaptsarov Musuem (home of the famous anti-fascist poet murdered by Bulgaria's fascist government during World War 2), the Neofit Rilksi house (home to one of the most celebrated teachers and figures of the Bulgarian National Revival) and the Sveta Troitsa church.

Many hotels were also shown to visitors during the weekend, including some exquisite guesthouses offering rooms for as little as 20 leva a night in the summer.

428. First Bulgarian woman to climb Everest

News BG: 2009-05-23

Petya Kolcheva, lawyer is the first Bulgarian woman to have climbed the highest peak on earth Everest. The climbing happened between 4 and 6 am Nepalese time this morning. She climbed up the peak with her husband Kamen Kolchev. The two took part in the climbing as part of an American expedition, informed DarikNews.bg.

Pety Kolchev is devoted to alpinism for many years. In her career as an alpinist her first eight thousand meter peak is Cho Oio (8201m), the sixth highest peak. Kamen Kolchev is a famous businessman in the broker fields.

427. Apartment complex built on former army base in Varna

Sofia Echo: 2009-05-22

A former army base will be transformed into a "new and modern" residential complex comprised of seven buildings with a total 210 flats. The new real estate will be located just north of the Sofia Varna motorway, on Treti Mart Boulevard, Stroitelstvo Gradut weekly reported.

The former army barracks are at the edge of Vladislavovo borough, one of Varna's suburbs, which has been gradually been transformed into a major local hub, with Billa, Metro, and Piccadilly supermarkets already operational and other major retail chains currently under construction.

Construction on the site started in 2006 with two apartment buildings already completed and the remaining five buildings being scheduled for completion by the end of 2009.

All blocks are equipped with basements, underground garages and cellars, and central heating facilities. The layout withing the enclosed area of the complex encompasses restaurants, cafes, a fitness centre, and playgrounds.

426. Luxurious yacht show starts in Varna

News BG: 2009-05-21

The biggest yacht event on water HYPO Bulgarian Boat Show 2009 will present around 50 new yachts among which there will be premieres for Bulgarian and the region. The event will be held from 21 to 26 May in Varna. This announced the organizers of the exhibition, which will gather the yacht importers and the fans in Bulgaria for the third time. The event is the only that is held on water and is the biggest traditional meeting of the producers and traders in this branch with the consumers.

The total area on which the boats will be situated is around 4000 sq.m with over 25 vessels being on the water and the others on the ground.

The yacht market is dynamic and I expect movement in the beginning of the summer season, claimed Ivaylo Zheglov, manager of Expo Team, one of the organizers of HYPO Bulgaria Boat Show 2009.

According to him the purchase of a yacht is an expensive pleasure but remains a long-term investment. The turnover of the luxurious yachts market in Bulgaria in the last year surpassed 30 million euro, shows the data from the importers. According to them only in the last couple of years over 150 new yachts have been sold.

Cars, motors, scooters, diving equipment, sport goods and accessories which will also be present at HYPO BULGARIA BOAT SHOW 2009.

The opening of the exhibition is tonight at the Maritime station in Varna.

Last year the forum was attended by over 8 thousand people.

425. Logistic and administrative centres are still sought after

Sofia Echo: 2009-05-20

Leading Sofia-based consulting firms have reported that perspectives for investments in industrial sites, warehouse complexes and logistics centres in the capital and the surrounding region have in fact "improved", because the crisis has had a substantially lesser effect on rent levels compared to other types of business properties.

"In the current market, international investors can buy industrial property in Manchester at, say, 9.45 per cent, or say in London, that would generate annual yields of about 8.75 per cent, which results in expectations for 12-15 per cent for Bulgaria as a risk premium," said Mihaela Lashova, manager of Investment Sales in Forton International.

Alexander Gebov, executive manager of construction firm Paladin Property Development, which develops the largest logistics centre in Sofia, in the borough of Elin Pelin, near the Trakia motorway, has revealed that interest in such properties has remained stable.

"We don't suffer from any decrease of demand, in fact, currently we have increase in demand for over 75 per cent for the first phase of the capacity of industrial park Sofia East. The work is intense as we are developing also the auxiliary infrastructure, in and around the complex," he said, as reported by Stroitelstvo Gradut.

Sofia East Industrial park is a large complex spanning more than 40 000 sq m in area, encompassing warehouses, logistical and administrative facilities.

According to Gebov, the lack of financing for new projects is the main hurdle at the moment, but this also is potentially exploitable by firms who have reached advanced stages with the construction of their projects, as the tenants (companies who need the retail space) have less opportunity to construct facilities of their own and so are left with no other choice but to rent them out. This, in turn, has kept the market stable.

424. Property visa

Sofia Echo: 2009-05-19

The Bulgarian Governments fast access visa system for non-EU nationals who own property in Bulgaria is reaping results with Russians emerging as the largest group, Deputy Foreign Minister Milen Keremedchiev told The Sofia Echo on May 11.

Keremedchiev said that it was Russians, followed by Serbians, who had best exploited the procedure to provide them with a three-year long multiple entry visa.

The logic behind the visa system, which has been in effect for more than a year, provides for granting an entry visa to non-EU nationals who own property in Bulgaria.

If non-EU nationals own property in Bulgaria they can apply for a multiple entry visa for up to three years, also valid for their spouses and children under 21. Applicants must also have had a Bulgarian visa - minimum one year-long, issued before that. Besides the three-year long multiple entry visa, foreigners would be entitled to stay in Bulgaria for 90 days.

"This has had an effect, especially when it comes to interest shown by Russians," Keremedchiev said. "All they need do is present their title deeds to one of the Bulgarian embassies consulate services and apply for the visa."

Since non-EU nationals cannot own land in Bulgaria they could apply for this procedure by presenting a document stating that they owned the company that had bought the property. "Many people do so when it comes to owning a single house but as regards owning an apartment in a residential building, there is no problem for non-EU nationals to have the deed in their name," Keremedchiev said.

The procedure came about when many Russian tour operators and real estate companies said that Bulgarias protracted visa system policy was deterring Russians from visiting.

The decision was also based on dwindling interest from British and Irish buyers, perturbed by continuing rising prices and the beginnings of the global economic crisis. Russians, on the other hand, still found prices viable. This, allied to close cultural ties and a shared past, made Bulgaria an attractive destination, hence the request for a streamlined visa system.

According to some complaints, property-owning Russians in Bulgaria were also treated the same as Russian tourists. As a result, Bulgarias Foreign Ministry introduced a separate procedure for non-EU nationals that entitled them to access to their property. How this will change when Bulgaria joins the EU Schengen Agreement area is yet to be seen.

423. 50 000 euro for 12th International folklore festival in Veliko Tarnovo

News BG: 2009-05-18

The municipality of Veliko Tarnovo to finance the organization and conduct of the 12th edition of the International folklore festival with 50 000 euro. Around this decision gathered the members of the cultural committee during its last session on Wednesday, writes Yantra dnes newspaper.

With regard to the financial and economic crisis and the reduced financial resources the management board of the festival has submitted a request for 60 000 euro from the municipality.

Traditionally the municipality bears the expenses for food and accommodation of the participants in Grand Hotel Veliko Tarnovo. Calculation show that this year the expenses for participant in the event will be 27 euro per person.

Over 660 dancers, musicians and implementers from 15 states will take part in the folklore fiesta, which this summer will be held from 18 July to 1 August. This time again the organizers have invited many attractive groups, which have not been presented in Bulgaria so far.

Unique folklore of the Australian aborigines, one of the best folklore formations in Peru, groups from the Canary Islands, Venezuela and a professional ballet from Argentina will present for the first time in Bulgaria.

So far participation have confirmed group from China, South Korea, Egypt, Jordan, Greece, France, Armenia and others.

422. Belfast-based construction companies look for employment in Bulgaria

Sofia Echo: 2009-05-11

Hit hard by the economic downturn, a group of construction companies in Northern Ireland are considering establishing a foothold in Eastern Europe and the Bulgarian market in particular, the Bulgarian news agency, BTA, has reported.

They consist of more than half of the firms who are initiating a one-week trade mission in Bulgaria and Romania starting today - May 11. The task force is made up of 25 firms in total, who have concentrated their attention on developing markets in Eastern Europe. Some of them are involved with the retail of construction material, others with recycling it two prominent industrial activities in Northern Ireland's economy.

Representatives from the group believe that Bulgaria and Romania have great possibilities for the future. "Bulgaria and Romania are benefiting a lot from investment emanating from the EU and the subsequent modernisation of their economies. And we, in turn, can envisage a lucrative potential," said Vicky Kell, one of the mission's organisers.

"Bulgaria and Romania have benefited from substantial investments in infrastructure overhaul and development and in the creation of modernised production technologies, telecommunications improvement, transport, energy production and protection of the environment," Kell said. "Investments poured into infrastructural projects in Bulgaria alone amount to more than eight billion euro," she said.

421. First foreign tourists for the 2009 summer season arrive at Bulgarian Black Sea coast

Sofia Echo: 2009-05-09

The first foreign tourists have arrived at Bulgarian Black Sea resorts, Tsvetan Tonchev, chairperson of the Bulgarian Tourism Chamber told Bulgaria Focus news agency on May 8 2009.

The first tourists were from Germany, he said, and noted that their arrival coincided with the official opening of the 2009 summer season on the Black Sea on May 5 2009.

On that day the opening of the season was marked in the Black Sea cities of Varna, Bourgas and the largest Bulgarian sea resort Slantchev Bryag (Sunny Beach), he said.

"About 60 per cent of the beds that Bulgarian Black Sea hotels offer are full," he noted. "Three, four and five star hotels that are close to the beach are almost fully occupied," he said.

Tonchev said that the first wave of tourists numbered between 15 000 to 20 000 people and noted that he expected a drop in the number of visitors compared to the summer of 2008.

He also said that prices in Bulgaria and in Greece have basically levelled. "However, I hope that we will have more revenue this year from more affluent tourists willing to spend more," he said.

He said that there was an increase in the number of tourists coming from Russia, Poland and Israel but a drop in the numbers of German tourists.

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