ARTICLES 
The year for expatriates in Bulgaria
The Sofia Echo, Article by Petar Kostadinov, 9th January 2006
THE year 2005 was a busy one for expatriates in Bulgaria.

They witnessed the adoption of numerous amendments and bills by Parliament in accordance with the countrys forthcoming accession to the European Union. Much of the legislation was aimed at easing life for foreigners who decide to live and work in the country.

First came amendments published in the State Gazette providing that foreigners would be reimbursed Value Added Tax (VAT) at the border in the event that they had made a purchase of 300 leva recorded on the same invoice.
Then, on February 16, Parliament approved the second reading of a set of amendments to the Bulgarian constitution about ownership of land by foreigners. In terms of one of the amendments, foreign natural and juristic persons will be allowed to acquire ownership of land in Bulgaria in accordance with the conditions arising from Bulgarias accession to the EU or in pursuance of an international agreement ratified and effective in respect of Bulgaria. This clause was approved by a vote of 211 in favour, four against, and two abstentions.

Next was the adoption of the International Private Law Code on May 4, which was done so that relations between Bulgarians and foreigners would be regulated by a single legislative act. The Code envisages that foreigners would be allowed to marry in Bulgaria only if they have permanent residence in this country.
Amendments continued with the Local Elections Act. These provided that, after Bulgaria joins the EU, foreigners from EU countries residing in Bulgaria will be able to vote in elections for mayors and municipal councillors. As of 2007, when Bulgaria is scheduled to join the EU, such foreigners will be allowed to stand as candidate councillors but will not be eligible to be elected as mayors.

The Government also approved changes to the Foreigners Act, opening the way for EU citizens to be allowed to set up companies in Bulgaria without being required to employ at least 10 Bulgarians. The requirement to create at least 10 jobs for locals had been the subject of frequent complaints by foreign business people, who argued that it was a disincentive to investment, and in some cases was impractical. The scrapping of the requirement applies only to EU nationals, and was approved because Bulgaria, on EU accession, will not be allowed to discriminate against EU citizens. Also abolished was the controversial requirement that applicants for permanent residence must have certificates proving their fluency in Bulgarian.
Bulgarians and foreigners will remember 2005 as the year when the so-called foreigner prices were officially banned. After much criticism, including complaints from foreign tourists, the Government banned the practice of many hotels, restaurants, museums and various entertainment and sports facilities charging foreigners double prices. The ban was in line with European Commission directives.

The news of the new regulation was received with mixed feelings by the Bulgarian-language press. While Kapital weekly praised the new regulation regarding the pricing for Bulgarians and foreigners, Trud daily said that the Government was trying to obstruct business. The consequences of this act were controversial. When the debate was going on, many were concerned that such a rule would mean that prices for Bulgarians would be raised to the levels of foreigner prices - and this happened. One factor in the Governments decision was that with Bulgarias accession to the EU, hundreds of consumer protection associations currently existing in the Union might be expected to come to the country. Given the strong support such groups have from EU legislation and the public, non-compliance with their viewpoints could mean trouble for Bulgarian holiday resorts.
Another media event involving a foreigner was the court case against 19-year-old UK citizen and Liverpool football fan Michael Shields. On July 26, he was sentenced to 15-years imprisonment by the Varna Regional Court for the attempted murder of Bulgarian bartender Martin Georgiev. On November 10, Shieldss sentence was confirmed by Varnas court of appeal. Shields has maintained his innocence, saying he was not present during the assault on Georgiev, and on the basis of a separate confession by another UK citizen, Graham Sankey, that he himself hit Georgiev. The court did not accept Sankeys evidence, because his statement was made in the UK and was not legally valid in Bulgaria. Sankey refused the courts invitation to give evidence in Bulgaria. Shieldss family has led a campaign for his release. A campaign was launched by a UK newspaper, asking its readers to send letters to President Georgi Purvanov calling for Shieldss release. In response, Bulgarian-language newspapers launched their own campaign against attempts to influence the court. Bulgarian lawmakers said that foreign political institutions could not interfere in national court proceedings.

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