- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2001

SOFIA, Bulgaria — The new Bulgarian government, headed by ex-King Simeon II, pledged yesterday to speed up reforms over the next three months in a bid to convince the European Union that the Balkan nation is ready to join.
Following a meeting with the EU's negotiator for Bulgaria, Michael Leigh, Finance Minister Milen Veltchev said he would produce visible progress in legal reform, banking and the fight against corruption before the end of October, in time for the EU's next report on candidate states' status.
"If we want Bulgaria's progress to be a feature of the next report written by the commission on the enlargement of the EU, then reforms, or at least a concrete plan of action, have to be put in place before the end of October," Mr. Veltchev said.
Mr. Leigh was in Sofia for the first time since Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha's Cabinet took office last week, marking a remarkable comeback for the former monarch after 50 years in exile.
NATO and EU membership are the main foreign policy objectives of the new prime minister — a man much loved but little known.
During his election campaign, Mr. Saxe-Coburg dodged specific questions about his plans with the now notorious phrase: "I will reveal that when the time comes."
His official biography is sparse on details, saying only about the years between 1961 and 2001 that he "has been active in everything regarding Bulgaria, attending to his business interests at the same time."
A majority of Bulgarians thought they knew enough about him to have made Mr. Saxe-Coburg the first king in Europe to regain political power through the ballot box since Louis Napoleon more than a century ago.
Born in 1937, Mr. Saxe-Coburg was 6 when his father, King Boris III, died and the boy became king. But after a Communist-organized referendum on abolishing the monarchy, the royal family was forced to flee to Egypt.
The young exiled king attended posh private high schools in Egypt and then Spain, where his family was given asylum in 1951. He has worked as a financial adviser and tried to stay involved with Bulgarian affairs, even though he was banned from the country by the Communists.
But with the arrival of new democratic governments in the 1990s, Mr. Saxe-Coburg has raised his profile. He returned for the first time in 1996 and flirted with politics, but no one in or out of Bulgaria seemed to believe in his seriousness until he announced the formation of his political movement in April.
He speaks eight languages and seems to have an innate ability to charm everyone he meets.
But to ordinary Bulgarians, it is his combination of aristocratic bearing and Western experience that is so attractive. He evokes both a hazily remembered pre-communist past as well as what Bulgarians hope will be a brighter future as part of Europe.
In his first major policy speech before the National Assembly, the new prime minister conceded that most of his policies would be continuations of the program of the former government of the center-right Union of Democratic Forces. That government, though favored by Western diplomats and businessmen, was distrusted by many rural and poor Bulgarians.
Mr. Saxe-Coburg said he would fight corruption by introducing measures encouraging transparency.
His oft-repeated campaign promise was to improve the lives of ordinary Bulgarians within 800 days. His means for achieving the goal are those of a Western-oriented politician: lowering taxes and introducing dozens of new programs.
cThis article is based in part on wire service reports.

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