Bulgaria backs battered Brussels with metro stop

SOFIA Fri Jun 15, 2012 7:46am EDT

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SOFIA (Reuters) - The European Union's reputation may be taking a battering from the debt crisis, but Brussels can at least be grateful for a vote of confidence from its newest and poorest member, Bulgaria.

Sofia's city council voted to rename one of the stops on a new metro line through the capital "European Union" in a gesture of thanks for helping with financing the project.

The EU is paying more than 80 percent of the 1 billion levs ($644 million) costs for the second line of the Sofia underground, said Malina Edreva, who heads the ruling GERB party's group on the city council.

"This is the least we can do, because over 200,000 people can use it from September thanks to European solidarity and the money of EU taxpayers," Edreva said.

Councilors changed the initial plan to name the station after St. Naum, a medieval scholar who helped St. Cyril and St. Methodius spread the Cyrillic alphabet used in Bulgaria, Russia and other eastern European countries.

Bulgaria, the most obedient Soviet ally during the Communist era, has a history of renaming streets, factories, schools and even towns - in the 1950s the Black Sea city of Varna was known as Stalin in honor of the Soviet dictator.

It joined the EU in 2007 along with neighboring Romania and Brussels has made billions of euros available for infrastructure and business projects to help them catch up with their richer and more developed neighbors.

But with a Greek election this weekend that could set off more uncertainty over the euro zone's future, another Bulgarian decision echoed Europe's challenge in persuading countries to put the group ahead of national interests.

The city council rejected an attempt to rebrand another metro station "United Europe" - because it would be too hard to persuade people to switch from the old name, National Palace of Culture (NDK).

($1 = 1.5529 Bulgarian levs)

(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova)

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