Bulgaria agrees four-motorway deal with government of China

Bulgaria has signed a framework deal with the government of China to build a range of transport infrastructure, including four motorways and a tunnel under the Balkan mountains.

The agreement was signed at the seventh "16+1" summit between a Chinese delegation led by Prime Minister Li Keqiang and the countries of central and eastern Europe, which was held in Sofia on Friday and Saturday.

The projects include a motorway between Veliko Tarnovo in northern Bulgaria to the town of Russe on the Romanian border. Another would run between the Danube town of Vidin in the northwest of the country to Botevgrad in the centre.

The road tunnel would run along the Shipka pass between Gabrovo and Kazanlak in the centre of the country; design work on the scheme began in 2009, and it has since become notorious in Bulgaria for delays in implementation.

The talks between Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borissov and Li also covered China National Nuclear Corporation’s interest in restarting the Belene Nuclear Power Plant project, proposed in the 1970s and abandoned in 2012 over funding problems.

The companies interested in taking part in infrastructure projects in Bulgaria are China Communications Construction (CCCC), China Road and Bridge Corporation, CITIC Construction, the Mizrahi Real Estate Group, China Machinery Engineering Corporation, Quantum Global Solutions and PowerChina International. CITIC has previously been linked with the Shipka tunnel.

The summit also agreed a deal between CCCC and China Railway International to modernise the Novi Sad-to-Subotica section of the railway line linking Belgrade with Budapest.

Serbia enjoys something of a special relationship with China and is expected to receive investment of €5.5bn, making it the principle beneficiary of Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative in Europe. No value was put on the Bulgarian projects.

China has helped to finance €8.2bn of construction projects in central and eastern Europe over the past 10 years, of which almost 90% were conducted in Serbia, Hungary and Romania.

The summit, which included 11 EU members, has raised concerns in Brussels over China’s growing influence on the south, east and central Europe, and the possibility that it could allow Chinese companies to circumvent the union’s import duties and anti-dumping tariffs

Image: Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borissov with Li Keqiang on Saturday (Government of Bulgaria)

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