Tag Archive | "Bulgaria"

Sofia Wants To Be Thessalonнki II but It Lacks Substance and Momentum

Adelina Marini

The Western Balkanswill be a central priority of the Bulgarian EU Council presidency, which starts on January 1st. This is both a very good and a very bad piece of news. Very good because this region is strategically very important for the Union. Very bad because the subject is too big a spoon for the Bulgarian mouth. The big event of 2018 will be the mega summit EU-Western Balkans in Sofia. On May 17, the leaders of the 28 EU member states and of the six Western Balkan countries will gather together in the Bulgarian capital. This was confirmed in the leaders’ agenda which European Council President Donald Rusk (Poland, EPP) proposed at the autumn EU summit and was approved unanimously. The ambition of the Bulgarian presidency is the May summit to provide the region with a new perspective for its European integration.

From Thessalonнki to Sofia

Such a huge event related to the Balkans’ European future has not taken place since 2003 when the Thessalonнki agenda was agreed, the main objective of which was to state loud and clear that the future of the countries in the region belongs to the EU. The approved tasks back then, alas, continue to be quite topical 14 years later, and those are: continue the consolidation of peace, stability and democratic development; progress in the European integration; fight against organised crime; economic development; reconciliation and strengthening of regional cooperation. In the agenda, a special emphasis is put on the inviolability of international borders, seeking peaceful solution to conflicts, fight against terrorism, violence and extremism no matter if it is ethnically, politically or criminally motivated.

Fourteen years ago, the EU stated clearly that it supports activities and initiatives in the region that boost social cohesion, ethnic and religious tolerance, multiculturalism, return of refugees and displaced persons, fight against regressive nationalism. After the adoption of the agenda, the leaders of the member states adopted conclusions which stated that the aspiring countries are expected to share the European values of democracy, rule of law, respect for human and minority rights, solidarity and market economy, “fully aware that they constitute the very foundations of the European Union“.

The then EU leaders hardly suspected that this issue would not only remain painfully topical for the Western Balkans but for some new EU members, who only 2 months before the adoption of the Thessalonнki agenda had signed their accession treaties. They hardly expected that the Union would be flooded by Euroscepticism, which led to the first ever exit of a member state. Nevertheless, they prophetically underlined in their Thessalonнki conclusions that the countries from the region are expected to “fully share the objectives of economic and political union” and to support the creation of a stronger Union.

Today, 14 years later, the situation in the Balkans is both different and the same. Different because the political geography has changed – Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania are now members of the EU; Serbia and Montenegro are actively negotiating their membership; and Macedonia only has a candidate status but does not negotiate. Bosnia and Herzegovina is in a process of filling the European Commission’s questionnaire, which is the first step toward receiving a candidate status and Albania hopes to receive such a status. In the mean time, Kosovo is already an independent state which, however, is not recognised by five EU member states, but the Union facilitates a dialogue for normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, which is part of Serbia’s accession process.

After Thessalonнki, the EU thought that the ambition of the countries in the region was irreversible and that is why it took a position of waiting for them to do their part of the work. This has proved to be a wrong approach which dumped the region in a continuous deadlock and created a fertile ground for a renewal of hostilities among the countries in the region. Currently, relations between the former room-mates in ex-Yugoslavia are at their worst condition since the end of the wars, which forced the EU to urgently start looking for ways to “return” to the region, which is a sphere of interest for big and not quite friendly geopolitical players too. Macedonia turned from a champion in 2005 to a captured state, threatened by an ethnic conflict. Bosnia and Herzegovina is again fragile with growing inter-ethnic tensions and calls for secession of the Serb entity.

Serbia is still hesitating whether it really wants to be part of the EU, trying to play the Russian card as well. To many in the EU, President Aleksandar Vucic is a pro-European leader, but this is only in words. In terms of actions, he is another one who chose the illiberal path. In the country, a process of rehabilitation of the Milosevic regime is taking place, nationalism is again in fashion in almost all the countries in the region, the rule of law is an incomprehensible concept which looks more and more impossible to plant, democracy is perceived by the local elites as a tool to consolidate power and crush opposition, progress in the European integration is only measured by the opening of chapters, and the accession process is politicised more than ever by the EU itself. In other words, the Western Balkans are a combustible region again, which needs a restitution of the Thessalonнki spirit, hoping that the effect it had back then will be repeated.

The Western Balkans are too big a bite for the Bulgarian mouth

Against this background, Bulgaria, not very reluctantly and under pressure from Germany, took the ambition to put the region under the spotlight of the EU. Each Council presidency has to have a priority of its own. Estonian presidency, for example, is focused on digital economy because Estonia is a digital champion and is known worldwide with the nickname E-stonia. Bulgaria does not have much to boast with in addition to the fact that it is blocked from further integration in the euro area and Schengen by its systemic problems with justice and the rule of law in general. Ten years after its EU accession, Bulgaria is still under special monitoring.

Germany’s motivation, as well as that of other countries, for which the region is very important, is that Bulgaria is part of it and it is presumed it has experience. The problem is, however, that the country has been very passive for decades in this region. Its external policy toward it is reduced to stating support for its European integration. Through the years, Bulgaria turned from an unconditional supporter of Macedonia’s European integration (whose independence the country was first to recognise) into another veto for its membership, putting as pre-condition the signing of a friendship agreement.

Bulgaria is not even a member of the Berlin process – the initiative of German Chancellor Angela Merkel for economic support for the region. According to well informed sources euinside spoke with, the logic of the Bulgarian diplomacy has so far been that there are two types of countries that participate in the Berlin process – donors and beneficiaries. Bulgaria neither has anything to give nor does it have anything to take, which is why it was decided to stay away. Because of the lack of serious initiatives in the region and notable presence Bulgaria is starting from a position of any other country which is not a geographical part of it.

Bulgaria only this year started trying to position itself in the region, but is doing this with a leader who is dangerously ignorant when it comes to fundamental issues of its history. The Western Balkans are in his mouth on a daily basis, but this could be as harmful as it could be useful. He is not even aware of the basic terminology for the region, which is of major importance for the messages that will be conveyed not simply by Sofia, but by the upcoming Council presidency of the EU. For example, he uses the word “package” having in mind something completely different, without taking care what a dangerous meaning it has in the context of enlargement.

In the beginning of October, Bulgaria hosted a quadrilateral summit in Evksinograd with the prime ministers of Greece, Romania and the president of Serbia. The fact that only Serbia was invited led to speculation that a Balkan four is emerging (following the example of the Visegrad four) – something Mr Borissov was quick to deny. He underscored that what brings the four leaders together is their interests in infrastructure. Borissov half-heartedly added that the format was open for the other countries in the region too – Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia – depending on the projects. The fact that he met with some and not with others is already noticed in the region. During the autumn European Council in Brussels on October 19-20 Boyko Borissov said, without being asked, that his Croatian counterpart Andrej Plenkovic asked him why does he not invite him. “And I tell him, just wait for those who are lagging behind first and then we will join“, Borissov said he told Mr Plenkovic.

The Evksinograd summit had a very bad timing too – it took place just two days after the bloody clashes in Catalonia, which strongly reminded of the Kosovo situation in the beginning of the 1990s. Despite the similarities though, Kosovo is not Catalonia and Serbia is not Spain. But to Belgrade this is a door to try and get rid of chapter 35 which covers relations with Kosovo and will be closed last. Another problem is that two of the countries whose leaders were present at the summit – Greece and Romania – have not recognised Kosovo but Bulgaria has. In such an environment, Borissov left Aleksandar Vucic to make his wrong and well known claim about the double standards the EU applies to Kosovo and Catalonia.

Wrong because the Kosovo independence was possible after Slobodan Milosevic started massive ethnic cleansing in the province which led to NATO’s intervention. The Catalan case is completely different – there is no ethnic cleansing nor repressions, which makes Serbia’s claim unjustified. The Bulgarian prime minister’s lack of good background is a pre-condition for such gaffes to happen in the future as well. And it was not necessary to wait long. Last week, the premier made several gaffes during his official visit in Sarajevo.

During a joint presser with Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Prime Minister Denis Zvizdic, Mr Borissov said that the Western Balkans will be a main priority for a series of presidencies. After the Bulgarian one comes the presidency of Austria, he said, and as if for consolation he recalled that Austria was here  before during the Austro-Hungarian empire. Words that do not sound well in a city where the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated on 28 June 1914, which marked the beginning of World War I. In an attempt to explain how stupid the historical disputes are and the conflicts based on them, Borissov asked what would happen if Bulgaria went on to remember about its territories during Tsar Simeon’s reign.

The Bulgarian prime minister’s ignorance is to some extent compensated by the fact that he truly understands how important it is to work with the Western Balkan countries. The problem is that he has no idea what to do. The quick agreement of the friendship agreement with the new Macedonian government is an excellent example of de-blocking of long lasting problems in the region. It could serve as a boost for lifting the Greek veto over Macedonia’s negotiations process and is an example of constructivism and will for regional cooperation for the rest of the region.

For the docile a date, for the naughties a horizon

Given the complicated situation in the Western Balkans, the strong geopolitical element included, the Bulgarian presidency will be a walk in a mine field with its central priority. The ambition of the presidency is the countries of the region to receive a clear commitment in Sofia on May 17. The more advanced countries in the negotiations process, like Montenegro for example, could get a concrete date for accession, whereas the rest could receive a timeframe of around 4-5 years. To Macedonia it will be a success if it receives a green light to start negotiations. Albania expects to receive a candidate status.

Bulgaria also wants to inject some practical contribution to the summit, which will be a difficult task because the Bulgarian presidency has to avoid duplicating the Berlin process. Prime Minster Boyko Borissov said he wants a significant increase of the pre-accession funds for the region. To him the significance of the May summit is “now or never”. “I feel that everyone realises that the Balkans are a place which, if we do not invest attention, including in terms of European projects or common accession projects, we will lose them. I feel in all colleagues an interest and I’m an optimist in this direction. Undoubtedly, this is the poorest region“, he said after the European Council meeting in October. His desire is Sofia to break a news, the summit to give a real perspective for the region not just end up as another protocol event.

Reefs for the Sofia summit

The situation in which the EU finds itself, the Western Balkans as well, is completely different compared to 2003. The Union is on its way to make a great jump in the deepening of its integration, but it’s no longer that united as it was 14 years ago. A multi speed Europe is no longer a taboo but a real perspective, created by the retreat of some new member states from the European system of values. That is why, it will be important the Sofia conclusions to include the text from 2003 which demands a pledge by the countries of the region to this system. Not less important is to invite these countries say what a Union they want to join – a more integrated one or a looser community.

This could give the Union an idea what can be expected of them after accession, although by the time they join governments will change and probably attitudes. The answer to this question can also hint at what compromises can be made with them.

Regional relations are a dangerous reef. This issue should be approached with care, especially against the backdrop of the developments in Catalonia which, at this stage, show that they could have an impact on the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. Normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia is included in a separate chapter of the negotiations with Serbia and certainly it will be a major obstacle for its accession, unless a solution to Kosovo’s status is found. Such a solution would also demand the EU to resolve the issue with non-recognition of Kosovo by five of its members – Romania, Spain, Slovakia, Cyprus and Greece.

Bulgaria will make a mistake if it relies only on its own self and its too weak capacity for the Western Balkans. The success of the summit in Sofia will be difficult but real if it is prepared jointly with the fellow member states from the region, like Croatia, Greece, Romania, and the direct involvement of the European Commission, High Representative Federica Mogherini (Italy, S&D) and the European Parliament rapporteurs for the countries in the region. The Western Balkans are too important to be left in the hands of a single presidency. Boyko Borissov hopes the issue will remain in the spotlight of the Union because of a series of committed presidencies. What about after? The Sofia summit has to answer this question too.

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Bulgarian PM Wants a Collective EU Membership in NATO

Adelina Marini

One of the most controversial topics on the agenda of the June 22-23 European Council is the deepening of defence cooperation, details on which you can read here. To Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov the most pragmatic solution would be collective EU membership in NATO as it will allow using the money available to all countries after determining who needs more aircraft, ships or land troops. For example, Bulgaria needs more ships because of the Black Sea, he told reporters before the start of the summer summit in Brussels. This way, he believes, it will come out much cheaper. Otherwise, there will be a new arms race and only Bulgaria will have to spend billions.

“Keeping in mind that we all want to increase the funds for pension systems as well, raise income, connectivity infrastructure. Well either one, or the other can happen, both cannot happen at the same time”, Mr Borissov said and indulged in reminiscence about the race between the Warsaw Pact and NATO. “We, the older generation, lived in an arms race. At that time between the East and the West, the Warsaw Pact and NATO, there was a brutal arms race and back then even the household irons, you remember what they were like, because everything was being spent on tanks, rockets, airplanes, artillery, and people were living in a very bad way. We have not forgotten it. You remember what a Moskvich looked like, compared to a Mercedes, or what an Opera TV looked like, compared to a Phillips. It was only 27 years ago, not a hundred”.

What is currently being discussed at the European level is the creation of permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) for the pooling of resources to buy common equipment, joint participation in missions, funding of military research and development, etc. Supporters of the idea – the European Commission, the Parliament and countries like France – claim that this integration step will not be against NATO but will complement it. Smaller member states, however, especially newcomers, see a threat of duplicating NATO in this.

The Bulgarian leader has also joined the ever-increasing voices in the EU who doubt that Britain will exit. “The closer the Brexit comes, and unfortunately during our presidency as well [01.01.2018-30.06.2018], this will be the most talked about subject, somehow I so much do not want it to happen”, he said. Brexit negotiations began on June 19th.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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The Bulgarian Paradox – How To Stay with Russia and EU in the Same Bed

Adelina Marini

There is something rotten in the European Union and you can feel it for some time now. This feeling led to a desire in some member states to break free from the handbrake that others are pulling on their development. The rottenness is felt the strongest in those countries, which are not quite sure what they are doing in the EU. Such a state is Bulgaria. In many respects it can be defined as pro-European, but that would be a rather simplistic definition. Bulgaria is among the countries where support for EU membership is among the highest, but it does not say enough about what really matters, so that the Union can move in harmony in one direction. It says nothing about values, geopolitical orientation, the rule of law. In recent years, Bulgaria has become one of the member states where the pro-Russian wing started to become more and more vociferous and form an opinion.

One consequence of this (and not only) was the election of Rumen Radev for president last autumn. He enjoyed the support of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, whose leader Kornelia Ninova immediately after her election to the post lay flowers at the monument to the communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, and in the campaign for the snap parliamentary elections on March 26 she even said that “democracy has taken away a lot from us”. She has contradictory rhetoric – once demonstrating moderate Euroscepticism in combination with pro-Russian slogans, and other times confirms Bulgaria’s European path. In this sense, it will not be an exaggeration to say that Sunday’s vote will show whether Bulgaria will go in the way of Poland and Hungary, or will remain on its current path, which can be described as pro-European, but with many caveats.

The paradox the country is in reminds a lot of the one in Serbia, where the forces who want to be with Russia and Europe simultaneously prevail. Indicative of the internal rupture was the behaviour of President Rumen Radev at the spring summit of the European Union in Brussels on 9 and 10 March, when he tried to fight the contradictions of the EU through his own contradictions.

I will fight for CETA, but this battle is lost

Following the summit, the president held a monologue with the media which lasted over 10 minutes, during which time he managed to clash several theses. At first, he reacted strongly to reports in Bulgarian media that he had supported the conclusions about the trade agreement with Canada (CETA). He categorically rejected the idea that he welcomed CETA. Word is about the conclusions of the summit in which leaders of the 28 member states welcome the results of the vote on the agreement in the European Parliament, which it was approved by. The conclusions call for a swift adoption of the necessary proposals, which would lead to implementing of the Agreement.

Where is the problem? The text has been approved by all member states, but does not have the legally binding power of conclusions of the European Council due to a ridiculous turn of events. Poland refused to sign in protest against the reelection of former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk (EPP) to the post of president of the European Council. Although Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło has no problem with the contents of the text, she refused to sign it. So the document was legally downgraded to conclusions by the president of the European Council. This in fact saved the Bulgarian head of state from falling in the uncomfortable position of having to explain to the party that supports him why he signed something, which the party and he himself has denounced.

According to available information, there was no leader against the text. It did not become clear from the president’s monologue whether he was going to vote against, was it not for Poland’s protest. Even with that information missing, however, the president was contradicting himself. At first he said that the question about CETA at the European level had already been decided. “It was decided by giving authority to the Bulgarian parliament and the Bulgarian government. At a meeting the government decides to sign CETA, CETA is being signed here, in October of last year the Bulgarian prime minister has voted for CETA in the European Council, CETA has been approved by the European Parliament”, he said. At the same time, however, he announced that he will refer to the Constitutional Court, because the agreement requires amendments to the Constitution

Unity means compromise

A little later, the president announced that in the name of EU unity compromises need to be made. “What I shared is that by supporting, now in the past, the decision on CETA Bulgaria is making a compromise because, in my opinion and according to analysts, CETA is a huge advantage to strong and sustainable economies. To weak and fragile economies CETA is a threat. And here the Bulgarian people and the Bulgarian state make their sacrifices in the name of solidarity and EU principles”, he said in front of Bulgarian journalists in Brussels, who had no opportunity to ask any questions.

A multi-speed Europe is our own fault

The president dedicated a large portion of his monologue to the process of drafting the declaration of Rome, which will be signed on March 25 in Rome on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome which laid the foundation of the EU of today, but he fell into contradiction on this subject as well. He announced he is against a multi-speed Europe because “there is no way to have a single body in two speeds”. He believes that the draft text is full of controversy. “On the one hand we have words and phrases like ‘a consolidated union’, ‘a social union’, ‘a prospering union’, ‘a strong union at the global scene’. On the other hand we have terms like ‘some of us’, ‘different speeds when needed, when possible’, ‘the enhanced cooperation remains open for’, in other words this is the controversy”. He announced that he had requested the removal of all texts that contradict the principles of unity and solidarity and that he has requested a mandatory inclusion of a text about the continuation of cohesion policy.

At the same time, he urged Bulgaria not to look at the EU as a cow to be milked and admitted that despite the fact that over the last 10 years European funds amounted to 40% of all public investment, it never brought any social cohesion. “The effect on Bulgarians’ living standard is mere 0.8%”, he said and stuck a finger in the wound:  “A determined fight against corruption, the scamming of European funds is necessary, clear rules need to be set, work for all law enforcement and judicial authorities, serious reforms in the judiciary as well, education, healthcare, the economic sphere. If we do not do this, nobody will wait for us. Formally or informally leading states will go at their own speed”, were the words of Mr Radev. 

Then again, if there is no rule of law…

The president tried to lay the blame for the state of Bulgaria on another front as well. He criticised the investment plan of the European Commission, known as the Juncker plan, saying that it favours stronger economies and businesses in developed countries, but Bulgaria still supported it. “So we still have made our compromises.” He further stated that “Investments are wonderful – those which come to us – but the cost of labour is much lower for the same levels of effort and intelligence that our workers, engineers, etc. put in. So we pay for solidarity not with words, but with real compromises, with real actions”.

According to the report of the European Commission on the implementation of the plan from January of this year, Bulgaria is a bit below the middle on the list of countries which have benefited from this plan. By January a single infrastructure project has been approved at designated value of 150 million euro, which is expected to unlock 408 million euros in investments. Up until now ten agreements for the financing of small and mid-size enterprises have been signed to a total value of 54 million euro, which are expected to trigger investments worth of 563 million euro. 4960 small companies or start-ups are expected to benefit from this aid.

The president further stated that he will insist on a guarantee that the cohesion policy will find its place in the next multiannual EU budget as well. Such a commitment is made in the text of the draft declaration for Rome of March 20th, but there is no explicit mention of the budget, which will still be the subject of serious discussions, starting next year when Bulgaria is to take over the rotating presidency of the Council. Despite criticism towards the EU and the compromises that Bulgaria was forced to make to be a member, the president periodically bounced the ball back into the Bulgarian field, calling for structural reforms, increasing investment in the development of human capital, education, competitiveness of the small and medium-sized enterprises. “And something very important – there needs to be rule of law. It needs to be strengthened.”

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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Commission Monitoring Mechanism Will Remain for as Long as Necessary

Adelina Marini

The EU Council of Ministers poured some cold water on all attempts of Bulgarian politicians at gaining the removal of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), through which the European Commission monitors the progress in creating an independent judiciary and the fight against corruption and organised crime. The conclusions adopted by ministers on Wednesday (8 March) state twice that the monitoring will remain not only until benchmarks are met, but until it is proved that the reform process is irreversible. Meanwhile, the European Commission objected to attempts at casting a shadow on the credibility of the monitoring. The reason for the objection is a question sent to the Commission by Bulgarian MEP Emil Radev (EPP), in which he stated that the mechanism is discriminatory, its results are controversial, and that annual reports contain controversial and ambiguous conclusions.

The MEP insists on moving towards a EU-wide mechanism for democracy and the rule of law that applies to all member states. He also asks how many experts are committed to working on the CVM and how much does that cost to European taxpayers. He claims that there are an insufficient number of employees working on the CVM and they are with inadequate expertise. “Realistically, you can say that two or three employees in the European Commission decide the future of Bulgaria and the way the judicial system develops, who lack the necessary knowledge and experience. No wonder that often the reports are contradictory”, is said in a press release from the office of Mr Radev.

The official reply of the Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans (The Netherlands, Socialists and Democrats) expresses strong disagreement with the allegations that the CVM is discriminatory and that its results are questionable. “The Commission underlines that the conclusions reached in its report are based on careful analysis and a fair and objective reading of the situation”. There are two permanent advisers operating on the Mechanism – based in Sofia and Bucharest respectively – and three people in Brussels who work part time on the monitoring. Not all of them are lawyers, but they have legal expertise at their disposal from colleagues in the Legal Service, the European Anti-Fraud Office and the Directorates-General for Justice and Consumers, Migration and Home Affairs, Internal Market, Regional and Urban Policy and Employment, Social affairs and Inclusion. The EC often uses external expertise from Member States as well, from judges and prosecutors.

Responding to a question by euinside, a Commission spokesperson pointed out that the Commission rejects all attacks against individual employees or against the monitoring process. “The CVM Reports are adopted by the College of Commissioners. The Commission’s methodology, the reports and their conclusions are approved by the Council each year”, added the spokesperson. The very day when euinside got this reaction, ministers in the General Affairs Council approved this year’s reports under the CVM for Bulgaria and Romania. The conclusions indicate that the mechanism can be terminated only when all the benchmarks are met in an irreversible manner.

“The Council reiterates its adherence to the values and principles of the EU. Effective implementation of reforms, focusing on sustainable results and on convincing and verifiable track records, remains essential for ensuring that citizens are enabled to benefit fully from all the opportunities offered by membership of the Union. Taking into account the last ten years of reforms in Bulgaria and Romania, the Council stresses the need of irreversible progress with the am of successfully implementing the benchmarks and achieving the final objectives. In these regards, the Council also reiterates the need for broad and unequivocal political support for such reforms and of effective implementation of the recommendations”, states the document.

Regarding Bulgaria the conclusions state: “Although the Council welcomes the political commitment expressed by the government for reforms, for the full implementation of all those recommendations it is necessary to consolidate and accelerate the overall political will and the Council expects concrete measures and tangible and irreversible progress before the next Commission report”. Bulgaria is expected to intensify the fight against corruption, especially at high levels of power, and this is to be manifested in concrete results. A new legal framework for fighting corruption is necessary to be adopted, including the swift establishment of an effective authority for battling corruption. A reform of the law on public administration is also needed, which would guarantee the strengthening of internal inspectorates.

“Bulgaria should address current weaknesses, and establish a mechanism for public reporting on progress (investigations, indictments, convictions, and enforcement) in high-level cases already in the public domain”, continue the conclusions. The situation in Romania is the one responsible for the sharpening of the ministers’ tone in the conclusions, for it is acknowledged that the so far inspiring progress of Romania is threatened by new attempts at hobbling the battle against corruption by the new government. So the document expressly states that “legal amendments resulting in the weakening or shrinking of the scope of corruption offences and which could jeopardise the fight against corruption should be avoided, as well as any measures which could challenge the independence or effectiveness of the DNA”.

“Pending the results expected from each of the two Member States in this framework, and the Council’s confirmation thereof, the Mechanism stays in place. Until then, the Council invites the Commission to continue its reporting and looks forward to its next reports on Bulgaria and Romania foreseen later this year. The Council welcomes the Commission’s intention to continue monitoring the situation in Bulgaria and Romania closely and to keep the Council regularly informed”. These words wrap up the ministers’ conclusions. This is a clear message that there will be no more political tolerating of any lack of progress or attempts at taking steps back.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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Hristo Ivanov: The Cooperation and Verification Mechanism Must Be Upgraded!

Adelina Marini
Image result for EU LOGO

Some will say “Finally!”, others – “They are late”, and yet third ones will watch in disbelief, but ten years after its accession to the European Union Bulgaria finally has its first party, whose main task is fighting corruption. The party was founded at the beginning of the year, it is named “Da, Bulgaria” (“Yes, Bulgaria”) and has the ambition to draw solid boundaries of corrupt behaviour, especially high-level corruption. The establishment of the party happened shortly before the publication of the regular report of the European Commission under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), under which Bulgaria and Romania slipped into the EU unprepared, as they had not completed the reforms to create an independent judiciary, which would ensure long-term and irreversible fight against corruption and in the case of Bulgaria organised crime as well.

For those 10 years Bulgaria and Romania have drifted away from each other significantly. While findings about Bulgaria have hardly changed at all, and reports constantly mark the emergence of more and more problems in various areas, in Romania a culture of intolerance to corruption emerged, due to the successful development, despite political resistance, of independent institutions which tirelessly prosecute corruption in the high-levels of power. Therefore, the moment the political class decided to take a step back, hundreds of thousands of Romanians took to the streets of Bucharest in protest. Meanwhile on the other side of the Danube Bulgarians watched with envy, while their politicians are preparing for the next snap elections in a row in which the words “reform” and “corruption” are not on the agenda of the current political players.

“Da, Bulgaria” is somewhat a party of the protest, similar to Romania. Many people, who enrolled for participation in the young formation, were among the most popular and active participants in the massive and prolonged protests in 2013, which were provoked by the attempt of the government in power at the time to appoint as head of one of the most powerful institutions in the country – State Agency for National Security (DANS) – an extremely controversial figure, considered deeply connected with political corruption and legalised organised crime. Besides, Delyan Peevski at the time was the indirect owner of a powerful media empire, which dealt with alternative facts long before Donald Trump showed up.

DaBG emerges in a time of mass distrust by Bulgarian citizens towards political elites because of repeated lies and unfulfilled promises, making the task of the new party very difficult. I spoke with the leader of the formation in Vienna, where he met with Bulgarians hungry for a new hope of having someone to vote for, and even verify whether it makes sense to return to the homeland, which in recent decades has suffered a significant brain drain. Hristo Ivanov is a former justice minister, famous for being the first one to resign because of disagreement with the political line and mostly because of the refusal of the government to carry out the promised judicial reform. In Vienna, he was in the company of one of the most prominent activists in the 2013 protests, Georgi Iliev, and the first Bulgarian tennis star Manuela Maleeva, who devoted her career outside tennis to a foundation for helping children with orthopaedic problems and to politics.

After meeting Bulgarians in Vienna Hristo Ivanov spared 30 minutes for euinside, during which he tried to explain how he intends to fight corruption, what he expects in terms of assistance from the EU, and also what sort of EU he imagines. He has some very strong messages for the European political elite. From my conversation with him I get the impression that he is a realist. DaBG has no intention of making a moral revolution, he said in response to my question of how will they deal with a problem that many say is even rooted in the mentality. He relies on his party entering parliament, where it can exercise constant and high pressure on the Prosecutor’s Office and the Interior Ministry to deal with specific issues related to corruption.

Intolerance in society towards corruption will appear only after it is evident that the reaction of the public has any meaning for someone. “When people have been expressing their intolerance for years, when for years they have shown frustration and dissatisfaction, they are scandalised, and this remains a shot into empty space because none of the political class, none of the institutions ever react, it limits terribly the ability of people to invest emotion in being scandalised”. Hristo Ivanov believes it is possible for Bulgaria to catch up with the level of Romania in 4-5 years.

The CVM will not only not be removed, but should be upgraded and deepened!

Hristo Ivanov believes that in their current form Cooperation and Verification Mechanism reports have lost their meaning. “Without a political partner in Sofia who can actually partner the EC, and not play a game of lies with it, behaving like a bad student lying to the teacher, these reports could not continue to have effect.” He expects the Commission to seriously and publicly announce its future intentions through a conversation. “The closing of this debate between Juncker and his boy Borissov, between the EPP and PES, this matter can not be closed there. We, as a society, must participate in a renegotiation of how Bulgaria within the EU can receive support and impetus for reforms”.

Former justice minister does not believe the words of the head of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (Luxembourg, EPP) that the CVM will be cancelled by the end of his term (2019). According to him, Juncker’s words were misinterpreted, and ultimately it’s not what he would say, but what member states will. He urged to put an end to the expectations that the mechanism will be abolished. A big drawback of the mechanism as it stands is that the missions are only four times a year, last for a week, and cover too wide a range of issues. Furthermore, the reports are the subject of political negotiations and lobbying.

According to him, the CVM should start doing much more detailed reporting as was drafted by European experts on the work of the prosecution. Moreover, he insists on a closer link between these reports and the European semester, because the semester can bring sanctions for non-compliance with the recommendations which has, however, never happened so far. Currently one of four country-specific recommendations to Bulgaria on the semester is targeted precisely at the judiciary and the fight against corruption. There is a very wide range of issues that require more specialised and much more detailed inspection, said Hristo Ivanov. He also proposes a widening of the range of the CVM to include other topics, which is also hinted at in this year’s report itself. Among these topics could be the work of the Interior Ministry. “This is a topic, which hitherto the CVM has treated for years only very superficially. Without this issue, a much more serious attention to it, a much more serious analysis, much more serious recommendations, we will remain stuck. The same applies to our security agencies.”

It is time for European political parties to assume their responsibility

The former justice minister sharply criticised European political families and German political endowments for the support they offer to their failed partners in Bulgaria. He believes they need to make a much more sober analysis of their interaction with their partners in Sofia. “How much longer will there be no political price to pay for the fact that the main partner of ALDE and the corresponding endowment in Germany is DPS (Movement for Rights and Freedoms) and this being recognised as a mainstream liberal, imagine, political formation? The same also applies for GERB by the way. The same is true in some senses of BSP. This omnivorousness of European political parties and foundations, which are willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that their partners in Sofia are suspected and stained by corruption concerns and political inaction regarding corruption must be stopped if we we want to have an honest dialogue with the European political families”.

At this stage, DaBG is in no hurry to be associated with any European political family as the number one priority at the moment is building a name and trust among Bulgarian citizens. From my interview with him I am left with the impression that he relies more on Bulgaria’s internal forces to tackle corruption, rather than outside help.

For a strong and comprehensive European Prosecutor’s Office

The issue of the creation of an European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) seems to be very close to heart for Hristo Ivanov. He spoke in detail about it during his meeting with Bulgarians in Vienna as well, and his answers to questions by euinside also show that he takes it to heart, the more so as at the time he was a minister he was involved in the negotiations on its creation. This is one of the most difficult legislative dossiers at present in the EU. Negotiations on it have been going on for four years, and just when it seemed that agreement was reached, Sweden and The Netherlands withdrew from participation, while Poland and Hungary also expressed reservations. It was decided to move towards an enhanced cooperation procedure, which allows a certain number of member states (not less than 9) to continue alone. This will slow down the creation of this body, whose task is to fight the abuse of EU funds and cross-border VAT fraud.

During the negotiations on the new body some member states, led by Italy, insisted on a strong supranational institution which covers even the fight against organised crime. Bulgaria, too, demanded this at the time of Hristo Ivanov. In fact, Bulgaria has always supported a strong European Prosecutor’s Office. Ivanov agrees that the move towards enhanced cooperation procedure will trim the wings of the prosecution. According to him, however, integration in this area is inevitable.

“I expect, including after the completion of certain domestic political democratic cycles in France and Germany, that the European political elite will look a little more seriously on the need to build solid institutions for its security, law enforcement, and intelligence services. It is inevitable, so in some sense I look at things that are currently happening more as an inbetween time, rather than something that is a clear indication of where things are going. We really are entering a new stage of development of these institutions, of the EU, of the entire European model as such. And this stage, will take time before it is formed, before its main story lines surface, it will take a long time. A new era is beginning and this never takes just a month or two”. He did sharply criticise the lack of specific priorities for the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council, which begins next year. As a number one priority he marked namely the creation of a European prosecutor’s office. Bulgaria must unconditionally participate in the enhanced cooperation procedure, and not only to participate, but also to do everything necessary to convince countries like Germany and The Netherlands that common security issues cannot be solved without such a tool. As a second priority, he pointed to a more proactive position on what the new migration policy should look like. The third priority, which he said Bulgaria must have during the presidency, is the exchange of information between intelligence agencies and security institutions. Cyber security is a huge challenge and should be placed as such.

A great problem currently is that only five member states trust each other enough to exchange intelligence information. “We boast, beat our chests, that we have access to these systems [for information sharing], but there is no real intelligence information related to security shared there”, he said and added: “That is, it is a problem of trust, because trust between the parties has one criterion and there is just one way to measure it and it is the sharing of intelligence information. If some countries are members of a club and do not share intelligence, they do not trust each other”.

The history, stupid!

The biggest problem the EU has at the moment is the lack of leaders with vision in both the EU institutions and at national level. Most leaders have a more “economic” political thinking and a little “historicality” of consciousness. “It will take years to reload a generation of leaders with, I would say, a little clearer historicality of mind, because we are now with a generation of leaders who have much more economic political thinking, much less historicality of consciousness, including historic responsibility. Awareness of history, awareness that not everything is as was written on Clinton’s wall, not everything is economics. So, the history, stupid!”, were his words.

You can see the entire interview [in Bulgarian language] with the leader of DaBG Hristo Ivanov in the attached video. 

* Some quotes from Hristo Ivanov are edited for clarity and brevity

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in BulgariaComments Off on Hristo Ivanov: The Cooperation and Verification Mechanism Must Be Upgraded!

Euro-Atlanticist course fails in Bulgaria

Image result for Rumen Radev CARTOON

In Bulgaria, the country’s first direct elections in the second round of presidential elections were won by the candidate who has been called pro-Russian. General Rumen Radev won the overwhelming majority of votes.

A former chief of the Bulgarian Air Force and the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party, General Rumen Radev emphasizes his independence from both Russia and the United States. Before the second round of the elections, he said: “Until recently, I was flying a Soviet-made fighter. I am a graduate of a US military academy, but I am a citizen of Bulgaria, and Bulgaria is my main priority.”

Despite the fact that he is called the pro-Russian candidate due to his policy of lifting the anti-Russian sanctions, reality is different. Moreover, Radev supports his country gaining NATO membership and continuing close ties with the West. However, he is certainly a more advantageous president for Moscow than Tsetska Tsacheva, who represented the ruling liberals.

In Bulgaria, the president does not play a serious role. However, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov announced his resignation and the dissolution of the government over the defeat of their candidate. He stressed that he would be going into the opposition and that “there will no longer be any compromises.” The current president, Rosen Plevneliev, began to make quite sharp anti-Russian statements several days before the election.

It is premature to expect any major changes before the new government is formed. But many agree that relations with Moscow will actually significantly improve even if the new president does not initiate the lifting of the EU sanctions against Russia.

In addition, the socialist Radev’s victory comes alongside the victory of the socialist Dodon in Moldova and, of course, against the backdrop of the high-profile election results in the US. Taken together, all of these new elections and their results allow one to speak of impending global changes across the whole world.

Posted in BulgariaComments Off on Euro-Atlanticist course fails in Bulgaria

Bulgaria in Turmoil after PM Quits over New Pro-Russia President


(AFP) – EU member Bulgaria faced an uncertain future on Monday after centre-right Prime Minister Boyko Borisov quit following the crushing defeat of his presidential nominee at the hands of a Moscow-friendly general backed by the Socialist opposition.

Critics fear the surprise win could tilt ex-communist Bulgaria, which has long walked a tightrope between Moscow and Brussels, towards Russia’s orbit — a trend seen across eastern and central Europe amid rising euroscepticism.

Nearby Moldova also looked set to elect a pro-Russian president on Sunday.

“The results clearly show that the ruling coalition no longer holds the majority,” the premier, who was re-elected in 2014 for a second time, said on Sunday evening.

“I apologise to those who supported us. I thought I was doing the right thing.”

The announcement came shortly after projections showed that ex-airforce chief and political novice Rumen Radev had swept close to 60 percent of ballots. Borisov’s nominee ex-parliament speaker Tsetska Tsacheva obtained just over 35 percent, in what political analysts calls a “catastrophic defeat”.

“It’s a victory for all Bulgarian people. Democracy has beaten apathy and fear today,” Radev told state TV on Sunday evening.

The straight-laced Tsacheva meanwhile failed to sway voters disgruntled over the government’s perceived failure to tackle rampant corruption and poverty in the European Union’s poorest member state.

Gallup director Parvan Simeonov told AFP the outcome was a “clear protest vote”.

Despite promised reforms, graft and poverty remain rife in the EU’s poorest member state, while public anger has also grown over thousands of migrants currently stranded in Bulgaria.

“Bulgaria needs a new face, someone who defends national interests instead of always saying ‘Yes’ to the European Union and the United States,” businessman and Sofia resident Assen Dragov, 39, told AFP Sunday.

The Bulgarian president’s role is largely ceremonial but the incumbent is nonetheless a respected figure and commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

– ‘Seek dialogue’ with Russia –

Radev is due to take office on January 22 for a five-year term. His first job will likely be to call early elections in spring next year, after Borisov said Sunday he would refuse to form an interim government.

Although GERB remains the country’s top political force, opinion polls indicate it will not be able to obtain an outright majority.

National security and preventing a new migrant influx were key points of Radev’s campaign, which saw the general gaining confidence and projecting himself as a fierce critic of the conservative status-quo.

His clear support for the lifting of EU sanctions on Russia over Ukraine and ambivalent statements about the EU and NATO have prompted analysts to speculate that he could pursue closer ties with Moscow.

“General Radev’s victory represents the unfolding of a pro-Russian scenario in Bulgaria so that the country supports Russian interests in the EU and NATO,” political expert Antoniy Galabov told AFP.

In his victory speech, Radev reiterated his support for scrapping the sanctions and also praised new US president-elect Donald Trump for “seeking more dialogue” with President Vladimir Putin.

“This gives a lot of hope for reducing (the risk) of confrontation, particularly in Syria” where Russia and the US are backing opposite sides in a bloody civil war, Radev said.

His victory signals a change of direction from outgoing President Rosen Plevneliev, a strong critic of Moscow.

Plevneliev warned Sunday that Russia was trying to “destabilise Europe” by financing anti-EU ultra-nationalists in Balkan states including in Bulgaria.

Posted in Europe, BulgariaComments Off on Bulgaria in Turmoil after PM Quits over New Pro-Russia President

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