Bulgaria turns to PR agencies to polish its image

The European Commission is likely to strip Bulgaria of about 500 million euros ($795 million) in EU funds next week and warn Sofia it may lose future aid unless it fights more effectively against corruption and organised crime, EU sources said.

Bulgaria turns to PR agencies to polish its image
To the exasperation of European Commission officials, new member Bulgaria has responded to EU criticism of organised crime and corruption by hiring U.S. and Austrian public relations companies to polish its image.

The Bulgarian government signed a contract with Austrian Hochegger Kommunikationsberatung for 1.87 million levs ($1.53 million) in taxpayers' money last December, data from the website of the Bulgarian public procurement agency showed.

The work included "carrying out a campaign for strengthening the positive image of Bulgaria across the European Union".

The European Commission is likely to strip Bulgaria of about 500 million euros ($795 million) in EU funds next week and warn Sofia it may lose future aid unless it fights more effectively against corruption and organised crime, EU sources said.

The Austrian agency said it won the PR contract on a competitive tender and has organised and in some cases paid for European journalists to visit Sofia and interview Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev and other government officials.

"Hochegger's assignment for the Bulgarian government includes integrated communication services for the Republic of Bulgaria. The scope of our consulting services is in communication enhancement and media relations," Martin Jenewein of Hochegger told Reuters by e-mail.

Hochegger is an associate of U.S.-based PR consultancy Burson-Marsteller, which said it had done a small amount of work for the Bulgarian government in Brussels under the contract, mostly involving "outreach" to journalists.

Robert Mack, director of Burson-Marsteller in Brussels, said that among those services was to arrange media appointments for Rachel Ehrenfeld, director of the New York-based American Center for Democracy, who has written articles saying Bulgaria is being unfairly treated by the Commission.

Ehrenfeld visited Bulgaria in May at the invitation of Stanishev to conduct what she called "an independent study of Bulgaria's efforts to fight organised crime and corruption", according to an article she wrote for the Washington Times.

"Penalising Bulgaria will be counter-productive," she concluded.

Reuters
Last Mod: 17 Temmuz 2008, 15:27
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