The European Commission today gave the green light for Bulgaria to become the first Eastern European country to join the European Union (EU)'s MEDIA Programme, which provides financial support for film distribution, development and training.

Although Bulgaria is not a member of the 15-nation EU, participation in EU programmes is seen as a pre-cursor to full membership. At the moment the only other non-EU country taking part in MEDIA is Cyprus.

The Commission said: "Bulgaria has achieved a substantial degree of alignment on the audio-visual acquis through the adoption of a new broadcasting law and the recent ratification of the Council of Europe Convention and protocol on transfrontier Television." It added that Hungary's new laws are not yet fully aligned, but that as long as alignment continues throughout this year it will be able to join MEDIA, making legislative changes in parallel with its participation in the programme.

Bulgaria will be required to pay a one-off entry fee to join MEDIA, but much of this will be covered by the PHARE initiative which encourages East European integration. After that Bulgarian projects will receive a maximum of Euros311,000 a year, an amount equal to the country's annual contribution to MEDIA.

A successor programme to MEDIA II, entitled MEDIA Plus, is currently under discussion in the Council and is expected to come into force on January 1, 2001. This will see the five year budget climb from Euros340m at present to Euros400m.