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Lands of opportunity

EU accession, RedR reorganises - Romania and Bulgaria join the European Union on 1 January, setting a challenge for international engineers.

The European Union has confirmed that Bulgaria and Romania will become full EU members from 1 January 2007.

The announcement is expected to trigger a boom in infrastructure investment in both countries, on top of the pre-accession spending already allocated.

'In January the pre-accession funding will be mirrored by EU structural and cohesion funds.

There will be considerably increased spending on transport and water infrastructure, ' explains British Contractors & Consultants Bureau (BCCB) director for Europe and the Americas Nigel Peters.

'But it is not just building, there is a lot of work to be done on institutional development, communities and legislation ? the softer side of development, ' he says.

It is in both of these areas that British consultants are well placed to provide support and advice. 'We are working on transport and urban water projects and there is also lots of risk analysis to be carried out, such as flood risk and seismic risk, ' says Halcrow regional managing director Europe Roger Hoad.

'In Romania, a major challenge is investment in the railways, which hasn't really started. It is going to be expensive, ' he says. At the moment the railway rests in the hands of the government.

'It is nationally owned but a restructuring is a possibility, as the country becomes much more market driven. Generally there will be more PPP opportunities in the future, ' says Hoad.

Water infrastructure also needs a drastic upgrade.

'Most towns do have water and wastewater infrastructure but the standard is very variable, ' says Mott MacDonald water utilities director Richard Moult about Romania.

Until about three years ago the country's water service was run by the municipalities. But under the EU it has been setting up regional operating companies to form larger organisations better able to carry out infrastructure investment, ' Moult says.

Similar progress is also being made in Bulgaria. 'Bulgaria is more advanced, but the development is mired in politics, ' says CIWEM International director Paul Horton.

Sofi has a concession with United Utilities and other regions are looking for a similar working arrangement. But each region needs the approval of a number of authorities within it to make progress. So if one councillor says 'no', work is scuppered, ' he says.

So far, UK companies have had more success in Romania than Bulgaria. 'Both countries are challenging to work in, but people have found the Romanians have accepted need for international expertise in a better way, ' says the BCCB's Peters.

EU identified improvement areas Bulgaria l Fighting corruption l Judicial reform l Agricultural reform l Food safety standards l Tackling organised crime l Aviation safety Romania l Fighting corruption l Judicial reform l Agriculture l Food safety standards l Taxation reform Human trafficking Concerns over human trafficking are so serious that the UK's Serious Organised Crime Unit has visited major British contractors to warn them of the risks of organised crime gangs infiltrating the construction industry.

Particular fears surround the Olympics construction boom (NCEI October). According to the EU monitoring report on the state of readiness for accession, these fears are well founded, especially in Bulgaria.

'Bulgaria remains a country of transit and origin for the trafficking of human beings, ' says the report.

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