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Belvedere Holiday Club - Bansko - Block 2

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Kosherinata - Bansko


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Key player in great game

18.9.2009
Today’s Great Game still goes back to Central Asia, as did the similar jousting between Russia and Britain more than a century ago.
This time, though, Bulgaria will matter. Will the Balkan country side with Russia or the European Union? Some progress should be notched up Thursday at a meeting in Sofia between Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko and his Bulgarian counterpart Traicho Traikov.
But as the first edition of the Great Game taught, events can be slippery and even reversed.
Core to the talks in Sofia is the fate of Bulgaria’s planned Belene nuclear power plant. It was ardently sought by the former Socialist government, which signed a construction deal with Russia’s Atomstroyexport.
Now, Traikov is backing off, saying Bulgaria might not wish to finance its 51% stake in the project. One reason, he noted, is that the estimated cost has jumped to close to EUR10 billion from the EUR4 billion inked early last year.
Local media suggest Shmatko may offer to pick up some of the tab.
Bulgaria does not need the extra electricity for domestic consumption, so its new government insists the Belene project should be considered on purely economic terms.
Five billion euros could also be used to build highways or industrial infrastructure, Traikov told a national television show.
A similar nuclear plant made about EUR100 million last year. That amounts to a 1% return on the invested capital.
Despite such a dismal rate of return, Russia might be interested in engaging in vendor-finance. After all, it has more fish to fry. Above all, it wants Bulgaria to stay on board with its South Stream project, a gas pipeline meant to muscle out the rival Nabucco project through Turkey and Romania that has gained the European Union’s formal backing.
South Stream appears to be on a roll, with reports this week claiming that French state-controlled Electricite de France wants to take a stake. Italy, through ENI, is already an ally, and Germany’s ties with Russia are intensifying by the day, with Opel now joining the multiple energy partnerships.
Ironically, though, Germans are cooling on Belene, in which German utility RWE was to have a big stake. Now Berlin may wish to rekindle enthusiasm if it wants to keep Russia happy.
Moreover, France’s Areva and Germany’s Siemens will benefit from Atomstroyexport’s building of the nuclear plant.
So back to Bulgaria. The country is strapped for funds and has pushed through Europe’s harshest fiscal tightening despite its first recession in a decade. But canceling the Belene project could trigger a spike fee of as much as EUR800 million, roughly equivalent to all that budgetary pain.
Shortly after July elections ushered in new prime minister Boiko Borisov, new finance minister Simeon Djankov said there was an 80% chance Bulgaria would pull the plug on Belene. Last week, Borisov tried to assure European Union officials it wanted to synchronize its energy policy with the 27-member bloc’s general strategy.
But as EDF’s recent decision showed, it’s not quite clear what that is.

http://www.focus-fen.net/index.php?id=a1003
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