(Bloomberg) -- Bulgaria’s ruling coalition set out plans to drop a controversial tax on the transit of Russian gas through its territory, as the Balkan nation seeks to improve ties with European Union peers and join the Schengen visa-free travel area.
The government’s move in October to impose a levy to cut into the profits of Russia’s Gazprom PJSC sparked concerns about high prices and supply disruptions across southeast Europe. While Bulgaria is yet to have collected any payments from the clients of its grid operator, Hungary’s authorities branded it a “hostile step” and called for an EU probe into the decision.
Bulgaria will amend legislation to revoke the tax until it finds an EU-wide approach to implement it, Boyko Borissov and Kiril Petkov, both former prime ministers and now leaders of the country’s two biggest parties, told reporters on Monday.
The party leaders were speaking before interior ministers of central and east European countries were due to meet late Monday in Slovenia to discuss the Schengen area and fight against illegal migration. On Sunday, Austria floated an idea to lift partially its veto over the bids of Bulgaria and neighboring Romania, allowing open access by air on condition the two countries accept extradited asylum seekers.
“We shouldn’t miss this chance because of the tax,” said Borissov. “Good neighborly relations, which have always been among our main prerogatives, will remain so.”
Sofia has been seeking to join the Schengen zone for many years, but the decision needs the approval of all EU members. The Netherlands and Austria have been reluctant to accept Bulgaria, citing its troubles with rule of law and border control.
Austria’s proposal is set to be discussed with Bulgarian and Romanian ministers.
“That’s a step in the right direction,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov told reporters Monday. But “we won’t accept any special conditions for Bulgaria,” he said.
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