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EU strips millions from Bulgaria

By Oana Lungescu
BBC News, Brussels

Police investigate the scene of a shooting in Sofia in April 2008
The EU has urged Bulgaria to do more to tackle violent crime

The European Commission has stripped Bulgaria of 220m euros (£188m) in EU funding over its failure to tackle corruption and organised crime.

In July, the commission froze more than 500m euros in aid to Bulgaria, one of its newest and poorest members, following a scathing EU report.

The commission has now confirmed that the country will definitely lose nearly half that amount.

Bulgaria is rated as the most corrupt of the EU's 27 member states.

As the economic crisis starts to bite, this unprecedented move is meant to show that the European Commission is not squandering taxpayers' money, and to warn new and potential EU members that they have to crack down on entrenched corruption.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said cutting the funds due to Bulgaria was an uncomfortable decision.

"I regret this decision because Bulgaria is an economic success story, it's a very committed and constructive member state," he said.

"But we have to play by the book and we have to respect the rules of financial management and therefore there is for the moment no other option."

No convictions

Bulgaria has taken some steps since the EU froze its funding in July.

But Mr Rehn said most of the measures were only the promise of future actions and had not delivered concrete results.

Bulgarian prosecutors are investigating some 80 cases of embezzlement, but no senior official has been convicted for corruption and more than 100 mafia-style killings remain unpunished. Mr Rehn warned that recent reviews had revealed new irregularities, and Bulgaria had to acknowledge the risk of political interference.

The commission will continue to review progress, and hundreds of millions more are at stake.

But that is only a drop in the ocean.

Until 2013, Bulgaria - described by Transparency International as the most corrupt country in the EU - stands to receive 11bn euros in EU funds.

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