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New Romania minister vows to splash EU cash

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(BUCHAREST) - Romania's new Europe minister pledged Tuesday to find a use for billions of euros in EU aid after it emerged that only a tiny fraction of a multi-billion euro handout had been spent.

"My task is twofold: on the one hand to coordinate European affairs, in a difficult international context, and on the other to improve the absorption rate of EU funds," Leonard Orban said after lawmakers approved his nomination.

Orban, 50, was European commissioner for multilingualism between 2007 and 2010 and was later a presidential advisor on European affairs.

"Mr. Orban boasts both undeniable expertise in this field and the necessary connections in Brussels that will help Romania fully capitalise on EU aid," Prime Minister Emil Boc told MPs.

Boc's government decided to set up a ministry for European Union affairs in a bid to remove bureaucratic and other obstacles that have hampered the use of the 20 billion euros placed at Romania's disposal over 2007-2013.

Orban told parliament's foreign affairs committee on Monday that barely 3.7 percent of the funds from Brussels had so far been used.

He stressed that Romania had to spend a minimum of 1.9 billion euros next year and 6.7 billion in 2013 in order to make sure the money was not lost.

Neighbouring Bulgaria, which joined the bloc at the same time as Romania, in 2007, has seen a major improvement in absorption since setting up a ministry for EU funds.

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