Independent Balkan News Agency

Bulgaria to slash diplomatic privileges for honorary consuls in the country

Bulgaria to slash diplomatic privileges for honorary consuls in the country
Sofia, March 16, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency

By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe

Bulgaria will cut back the privileges according to honorary consuls in the country, stripping them of diplomatic privileges, diplomatic car licence plates and tax perks.

This was confirmed at a Cabinet meeting on March 16, a week after Prime Minister Boiko Borissov inquired from the Foreign Ministry about the matter. At the earlier meeting, it emerged that honorary consuls in Bulgaria had privileges far above the norm among other European Union member countries.

There are more than 60 honorary consuls for foreign countries in Bulgaria, most of them private sector business people.

At the Cabinet meeting, Deputy Foreign Minister Valentin Poryazov, replying to a question from Borissov, said that the changes could be carried out by amending ordinances for which the Finance Minister, Foreign Minister and Interior Minister, respectively, are responsible. There was no need for the Cabinet to make a formal decision on the matter, Poryazov said.

In response to Borissov's instruction the previous week, an interdepartmental working group comprising representatives of the Foreign Ministry, Finance Ministry, National Revenue Agency, Customs Agency and Interior Ministry was set up, Poryazov said.

He said that the proposed changes to these regulations would dramatically limit the privileges of honorary consuls.

The regulations to be changed included those on VAT and excise duty refunds for foreign diplomatic missions, on customs clearance for goods imported and exported by diplomatic missions, and on the registration of motor vehicles owned by foreign individuals and legal entities.

Poryazov said that the Foreign Ministry had proposed, and the other departments accepted, removing honorary consulates from all these regulations.

"Thus, they will not enjoy any diplomatic privileges," he said, according to an official transcript of the Cabinet meeting.

He said that regulations would clarify that VAT exemption would apply only in the case of consulates whose premises were owned by the foreign countries represented by the consuls. Poryazov said that in Bulgaria, honorary consulates usually were in the offices of business people.

Exemption from customs duties would remain in place for publications, flags, furniture, books and other items essential to the foreign country - only if supplied by that country.

The Interior Ministry would remove honorary consuls from those entitled to diplomatic vehicle licence plates - popularly known, for their colour, as "red plates".

In cases where the honorary consul is a Bulgarian citizen - the majority - the person will have a three-month deadline to return the red plates and register the car with the white plates of an ordinary Bulgarian citizen. In cases where the honorary consul is a foreign citizen, said by Poryazov to number only two or three, the red plates also will have to be returned, and substituted with the blue-backed plates prefixed by XX that are for cars registered to foreign citizens.

Procedurally, the changes to the regulations will be posted by the ministries, there will be a 14-day period for comment, after which the changes will be promulgated in Bulgaria's Official Gazette, and come into force three days after publication.

Borissov ordered his ministers to ensure that the changes be posted on the ministries' websites by 5pm on March 16.

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