Bulgaria Puzzled Anew by Arms Deal for French Corvettes
The notorious arms deal about Bulgaria's purchase of two corvettes from France is still up in the air, Defense Minister Anyu Angelov revealed on Monday.
Speaking during a forum in Sofia discussing NATO's new Strategic Concept, Angelov made the unexpected announcement that the negotiations on the French arms purchase had been frozen, while for all practical purposes the deal was reported to have been canceled by Bulgaria for lack of funds.
After a tender in 2007, the French company "Armaris" planned to sell to Bulgaria 2 corvettes for BGN 1 B, a deal that was blessed by Bulgaria's former government and Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov.
French President Sarkozy first put on the table the corvettes' purchase in 2007 when he visited Sofia after his diplomatic triumph with the release of the Bulgarian medics jailed in Libya.
Bulgarian PM Borisov canceled the deal in October 2009 during a visit to Paris, stating on that occasion that the corvettes were not feasible because the country's previous rulers not only did not slate any money in the budget for such splurge, leaving Bulgaria to face the need of BGN 150-160 M to repair the Belgium frigates bought by the "Stanishev" cabinet. Back then Borisov said Sarkozy and his Cabinet showed understanding with respect to Bulgaria.
On Monday, however, Angelov made it clear the deal was not canceled altogether. He said the talks were frozen because initially Armaris won the tender by offering a price of EUR 187 M per vessel; subsequently, however, the price grew to EUR 498 M for the two corvettes, or EUR 249 M each.
"We cannot afford to continue the talks with Armaris because we will be sued by the other companies which participated in the tender if we get to sign a contract for this higher price," explained Angelov describing the price demanded by France for the corvettes as "impossible, especially for such a small frigate which has not even been built by France yet."
The Minister said the deal was actually included in a declaration for strategic partnership that Sarkozy and ex PM Stanishev signed in Paris on July 4, 2008. The deal was frozen after that.
Bulgaria's Defense Ministry first announced the tender for four corvettes in 2005. The Dutch firm Medvede won initially but after that the results of the tender were revised by the Ministry.
After the Stanishev-Sarkozy meeting in Paris in July 2008, the deal was downsized to two corvettes because of Bulgaria's budgetary constraints.
Subsequently, France offered Bulgaria licenses for the construction of military and commercial ships in Bulgarian shipyards but this offer failed to materialize.
Last week Bulgarian PM Borisov hinted that the problems with the corvettes deal might have influenced France's position not in favor of Bulgaria's Schengen accession in March 2011, as the Bulgarian government hopes.
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