Saturday, 19 September 2009

The quest for the Bulgarian Commissioner

As I have already written, the speculations about the figure of the Bulgarian representative of the 2009-2014 European Commission have been going for quite some time now. The parliamentary elections in Bulgaria (held on July 7th 2009) have reduced the list of possible candidates to just two.

The electoral success of the EPP-affiliated GERB has dramatically increased the chances of Rumyana Zheleva who is currently holding the post of foreign minister. Ms. Zheleva has been in the consultancy sector before becoming an MEP in 2007. She regained her seat in the European Parliament as a top-candidate of the party in 2009. However she held it just briefly after the new Bulgarian government was constituted in late July.

The other candidate is the present Commissioner Meglena Kuneva (in charge of the Consumer protection portfolio). Ms. Kuneva has long been a favorite to retain her post after transforming the area she is responsible for from a minor one to one of the most important during this Commissions mandate. As a result she was elected Commissioner of the year in 2008. Meglena Kuneva has even been tipped for a vice-presidency if she managed to be re-appointed.

If the appointment of an European commissioner was up to the judgment of the national governments only then Ms. Zheleva would have been almost 100% certain for the post. However in reality the viewpoint of the Commission President and Parliament matter just as much. That pretty much levels the two ladies' chances. Meglena Kuneva can count on the benevolense of re-elected Barosso as she has been one of the popular commissioners during his first term. Kuneva has managed to establish quite solid relations in Brussels already during Bulgaria's negotiation process with the EU when she was the country's chief negotiator. The level of "mutual understanding" (although one-sided) was signalled by the nickname "Misis Yes" she received. That all comes to speak about the very strong connections Kuneva has in Brussels.

Compared to her opponent, Rumyana Zheleva is virtually nobody in Brussels. When elected for an MEP in 2007 she was fifth in her party's list and never held an important post in any Parliament commission. Hence she has never been involved in any interaction with the Commission. At present the major asset in her CV is the post of foreign minister which she holds for just 45 days. Such a background will not help in the preliminary hearings even if Barosso does not ask for another candidate. However Zheleva is sure to be the country's first candidate as prime minister Borisov declared that the Bulgarian nomination will be a woman representing his political party GERB.

The structure of support for Barroso's re-election could prove to be crucial in determining the fate of the Bulgarian commissioner. The backing of the ALDE group did not come free of charge. Barroso would have to secure a one-third commissioner quota for the liberals. Where those eight or nine commissioners are going to come from is hard to tell as 23 of the 27 European governments are center-right. As one of the new and uninfluential member-states Bulgaria might well be forced to make a compromise. And that will leave the doors for Kuneva wide open ...

P.S. The impact of the second Irish referendum on the Lisbon treaty should also not be underestimated as Bulgaria might not even have a commissioner if the treaty is ratified.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

The results of the Bulgarian EP elections

The official results of the European elections have been finally announced. As for a Balkan country there were complaints for vote rigging, buying and selling of votes, vote recount was requested but turned down by the Central Electoral Commission that administers the elections.

If we try to be more positive, the turnout was higher - up good 10% from 28,9% in 2007 to 38,9% now which means 650 000 more people bothered to go vote. It was raining heavily back in 2007 and many people blamed that for the low turnout while this time the sun was shining. Of course the increased polarization of the Bulgarian society due to the upcoming parliamentary elections also contributed.

So, who won and who lost in the Bulgarian EP elections?

The populist GERB (EPP) retained the first place from two years ago, the socialists came second again (although by a bigger margin), while the party of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria DPS was again third. The nationalists of ATAKA were fourth. NDSV and the Blue coalition contested the fifth place with just 361 votes separating them on the finish. What does that mean in mandates?

The electoral formula used for the European elections in Bulgaria is that of the largest remainder (Hare-Niemeyer). The system does not have a bias in favor of the big parties so the distribution of mandates is seen as fair. As a largest party GERB got 5 mandates, BSP - 4, DPS - 3. The nationalists of ATAKA will have two representatives in the European parliament, NDSV also two and the Blue coalition - one. However if and when the Lisbon treaty comes into force the 18th Bulgarian mandate will go to the Blue coalition.

That's how the distribution looks like according to European party affiliation:

GERB and the Blue coalition are EPP members, BSP is the PES representative in Bulgaria, NDSV are part of the ALDE group, while ATAKA were briefly part of the nationalist "Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty" group in the EP before it dissolved. The Turkish minority party also claims to be liberal which is ridiculous when you think about it but they are also ALDE members.

The European elections in Bulgaria were unlucky to come just a month before the national ones so the debate never came really European and already on election night everybody was analyzing what the results mean in national perspective. However, there are a few positive tendencies. First of all, the turnout was substantially higher than in 2007. Secondly, the traditional center-right parties managed to achieve representation which was not the case two years ago so all the segments of Bulgarian society will have their say in Strasbourg. Thirdly, I'd like to think people know little bit more about the European Parliament does - it was the second such elections and much more European information campaigns targeted society. The higher turnout may be one of the signs that worked. Elections'2009 good bye, 2013 - here we come!

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Emine Gyulestan: "The Western Balkans and Turkey should join the EU when they meet the Copenhagen criteria"

Emine Gyulestan was born in 1986 in Momtchilgrad, Bulgaria. She holds a Bachelor degree in Balkan studies and International relations from the American university in Bulgaria. Her interests include the culture and history of the whole Balkan region. Speaks English, Greek and Turkish.

Q: What direction should the EU take - towards United States of Europe or towards Europe of the Nations?

A: I think there's a common ground between the two visions - cooperation between the member-states. The question is about the extent of that cooperation - whether the emphasis should fall on integration of the different nations or mostly on economic cooperation. I think it would be perfect if we can a find a combination of the two projects.

Q: What’s your opinion on the issue of enlargement? Should the Western Balkans and Turkey join the union and when?

A: There are certain criteria that the Western Balkans need to meet, just as Bulgaria and Romania did before joining the EU. From Bulgarian point of view, I believe that it is better to be surrounded by states in stable economic condition which are integrated in the EU. If Bulgaria manages to help the Western Balkans in that sense we shall deserve a very good image and credit.

Q: What should be the priorities of the Bulgarian membership in the EU?

A: As a young person I see education as priority. With the proper education and proper qualities, we can better integrate in the European family and be competitive.

Q: What would be your personal priorities if you would become a Bulgarian representative in the European Parliament?

A: My personal priority is education which is very important especially for Balkan countries like Bulgaria. There are minorities in the Bulgarian society like the Roma which don't manage to use the opportunities to tackle their problems. I believe there should be a unified European educational system to enable and strengthen the mechanisms for student mobility in all the 27 member-states.

Emine Gyulestan is tenth on the list of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) in the European Parliament elections.

P.S. The interview has been made with the assistance of the Bulgarian National Television.

Friday, 5 June 2009

"The Lisbon treaty would give Brussels more control over Bulgaria's unconsolidated democracy" says Boris Stanimirov of the Blue coalition

Boris Stanimirov was born in 1976 in Sofia, Bulgaria. He holds a Bachelor degree in molecular biology for the University of Sofia. Specialized in political science in the New Bulgarian University. Boris Stanimirov is vice-president of the European Young Conservatives under the patronage of Margaret Thatcher. Speaks four languages. Married with two kids – a boy and a girl.

Q: What direction should the EU take - towards United States of Europe or towards Europe of the Nations?

A: As far as the federalist project for Europe is connected to the Lisbon treaty, this is the vision that benefits Bulgaria more. Because on one side it gives Bulgaria more seats in the European Parliament and on the other - gives Brussels more control over Bulgaria's unconsolidated democracy. It has to be mentioned though, that Europe of the Nations also has good sides.

Q: What’s your opinion on the issue of enlargement? Should the Western Balkans and Turkey join the union and when?

A: The important topics for Bulgaria regarding enlargement concern Macedonia and Turkey. Turkey is quite big in terms of size and population. If she does not meet the membership standards she can destabilize the whole European Union. If small Bulgaria simply scandalized Europe with some internal problems then 70-million Turkey could destabilize and literally torpedo the European institutions. As far as Macedonia is concerned, Bulgaria was the first country to recognize its independence. I hope Bulgaria will also be the first to welcome Macedonia as a new EU member as soon as the country settles the disputes with its neighbors and adopts a truly European position towards Bulgaria.

Q: What should be the priorities of the Bulgarian membership in the EU?

A: Unfortunately, the first priority should be the restoration of trust in Bulgaria which was forfeited. Then the unfreezing of European funds for the country - almost 6 bn. Euros until 2013. Our ambition is to make that happen by the end of the year.

Q: What would be your personal priorities if you would become a Bulgarian representative in the European Parliament?

A: My personal priority would be that Bulgaria becomes home of all ethnic Bulgarians in the world. There are traditional Bulgarian communities in Macedonia, Serbia, Ukraine and Moldova which should have their European perspective. They should feel the support of European Bulgaria. That's our national ideal and a legacy of our ancestors. Bulgaria has never had an instrument to fulfill it as its European membership now.

Boris Stanimirov is seventh on the Blue Coalition’s list for the European Parliament elections.

P.S. The interview has been made with the assistance of the Bulgarian National Television.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

"Turkey should never join the EU" - how the Bulgarian nationalists motivate their view

Nikola Rachev was born on Sept. 19, 1983 in Sofia, Bulgaria. He studies medicine at the Medical university in Sofia. Speaks English, Spanish and Russian. Nikola has been a member of political party "Ataka"'s youth organization for three years. His hobby - sports. Nikola likes to read historical literature. I interviewed Nikola on his view of Europe and the Bulgarian membership in the EU.

Q: What direction should the EU take - towards United States of Europe or towards Europe of the Nations?

A: I think the EU should implement the "Europe of the Nations" project. This way the national identity of Bulgaria will be preserved - something that "Ataka" is standing for.

Q: What's your opinion on the issue of enlargement? Should the Western Balkans and Turkey join the union and when?

A: Never. We should say "No" to the Turkish accession in the European Union. As we know Turkey is a descendent of the Othoman Empire and its values and religion are completely incompatible with the European ones. Turkey would never work in European interest. Besides, if Turkey becomes an EU member that would allow many Turkish citizens to come and vote on the Bulgarian parliamentary and European elections.

Q: What should be the priorities of the Bulgarian membership in the EU?

A: The main priorities are four. Firstly, the reopening of the closed reactors of the Bulgarian nuclear power plant "Kozludui". As we well know their closing was not a necessary condidtion for our EU accession. Secondly, I think the (agricultural) production quotas should be abolished or at least raised. The current quotas for Bulgaria are too low. Thirdly, the European social legislation should be applied in Bulgaria and last but not least - the EU should not interfere in national religious issues.

Q: What would be your personal priorities if you would become a Bulgarian representative in the European Parliament?

A: If I am elected my main priority would be to study the European health system in the different member states and try to apply it in Bulgaria as currently the Bulgarian health system does not work for the patients best interests.

Nikola Rachev is seventh on "Ataka"'s list for the European Parliament elections.

P.S. The interview has been made with the assistance of the Bulgarian National Television.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Only the nationalists care about European issues

The campaign for the European elections in Bulgaria has been quite apathetic so far. The campaigning has been mostly on TV - in the form of debates and video clips. The national TV is also covering the campaign events of all the parties which in most cases are indoor meetings with 20-50 spectators/party members. I myself saw a campaign poster in the streets of Sofia for the first time just yesterday. The elections are on Sunday and nothing shows this will change in the next five days.

The extremist "Ataka" (meaning "attack" in English) seems to be the only party using a slogan related to the European issues. The nationalists touch upon the enlargement question and surprise, surprise, their slogan reads "No Turkey in the EU". As biased as it is, this message is directly connected to the future of the European Union and concerns all the 27 member states.

The "ATAKA" poster reads: "That would've been the situation if not for us Bulgarians. Let's stop the fez (turbans) now again!"

The rest of the parties employ rather vague and mostly domestic-bred appeals. The party tipped to win most seats - GERB simply plagiarizes Obama - "Let's prove that Bulgaria CAN". Sounds funny in English and vague at best in Bulgarian. The Bulgarian Socialist Party, running second in the polls, is campaigning under the slogan "We protect the Bulgarian interests in Europe". Outrightly ridiculous appeal when we talk European elections. I guess their MEPs will still sit in the PES group and not try to form some Bulgarian group in the European parliament. And it's quite pretentious to claim such thing when the socialist-led government managed to get all the European funds for Bulgaria frozen because of numerous corruption scandals.

Now comes the interesting part - the party of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria (member of the ALDE EP group) employs the slogan "Give Trust, get Support and Security". The capital letters read the party abbreaviation - DPS in Bulgarian. That seems to the only idea behind that bunch of words. The centre-right Blue coalition, which is the last formation given chances to pass the electoral threshold obviously also decided to borrow from the American political experience. Their campaign moto is "It's time for the good (people)".

It's easy to reach a verdict - the political actors in Bulgaria perceive the European elections merely as a first tour of the domestic ones (to be held on July 5th). The parties refuse to fulfill their obligations to inform and "educate" the citizens about the real European issues and take the campaign as a chance to position themselves better for the elections that matter. Opinion polls predict a turnout of 35-40% but with such a "campaign" I doubt it will go far beyond the 28.9% the 2007 vote reached.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Domestic heavyweights enter election battle

The deadline for registering party lists for the European elections in Bulgaria passed this Friday (May 15th). Some of the major parties waited to the last moment before announcing their candidates, obviously hoping to surprise their opponents. Some surprises did occur, especially regarding the names of the people leading the lists.

With the Bulgarian parliamentary elections coming up in less than two months (to be held on July 5th), Bulgarian parties are eager to prove themselves on the European elections and thus further motivate their electorate for the national vote. That led to the introduction of some "domestic heavyweights" in the electoral battle.

The biggest surprise was the appearance of the Bulgarian foreign minister Ivaylo Kalfin on the No.1 spot in the list of the Socialist Party.

Mr. Kalfin is not even a member of the Socialist party which sparked some internal debate among party officials but since he enjoyed the backing of the current prime minister (and party leader) his candidacy was officially announced on Friday. Ivaylo Kalfin has a background in international economic relations and international banking before becoming an MP in 1994, presidential advisor in 2002 and subsequently - foreign minister in 2005.

Not so surprisingly came another high-profile candidacy - that of the present European commissioner Meglena Kuneva.

Ms. Kuneva's name was mentioned as a possible top-candidate of the list of the Bulgarian liberals for quite some time and the party made it official ahead of the registration deadline. Nicknamed “Ms. Yes” during Bulgaria’s accession negotiations with the EU, she became a Commissioner in 2007 when the country finally joined the union. Commisionner of the Year in 2008. Rumor has it she will not become an MEP even if elected but give way to the next in the party list. Her chances of retaining the commissioner post are rather slim as the party that backs her - NDSV has a quite low electoral support of 2-6% of the people.

The center-right "Blue coalition" is also fielding a prominent figure - the former foreign minister Nadejda Mihaylova.

Ms. Mihaylova was Bulgarian foreign minister between 1997 and 2001. During that period she had to handle the Kosovo conflict and the start of the Bulgarian negotiations for EU accession. Vice-president of the European People's Party between 1999 and 2006. The polls predict the "Blue coalition" could claim one or two of the 17 Bulgarian seats in the EP so she would most probably continue her political carrier as an MEP.

The other parties chose not to field their best soldiers in this battle and keep them for the national vote or simply were not able to find such candidates. The populist GERB (now with 5 MEPs) and the Turkish-minority party DPS ( with 4) chose sitting MEPs to head their lists.

GERB's Rumyana Zheleva has been connected to the post of future European commissioner for quite some time now, although no official statement on the topic has been released by the party. Ms. Zheleva has been in the consultancy sector before becoming an MEP in 2007.

The overall look of the candidates shows that Bulgarian parties take these elections more seriosly than the first time when Bulgaria had to elect its MEPs in 2007. Two years ago the top candidates were mostly young party officials, now we see an acting and former foreign minister, accompanied by a European commissioner. The main reason behind that is most probably the fact that everybody (voters, parties, experts) see the European elections merely as a first round to the national ones. Understandably all actors want to do well. In any case the higher profile of candidates and the increased politicization of society should result in a higher turnout. Due to the two year work of current MEPs Bulgarian society is slightly more informed about what the European Parliament is about. In this sense these elections will be more European and should produce a more legitimate result than the 2007 ones.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Libertas branch in Bulgaria denied EP election registration

Coalition "Libertas-free citizens" have been denied registration for the European Parliament elections by the Bulgarian Central Electoral Commission. The coalition submitted its documents for registration yesterday (May 13th) just minutes before the registration deadline. However, according to Commission officials the set of documents was missing an important piece - a bank order proving the payment of the deposit for participation in the elections. Instead, there was a note saying that the deposit of 100 000 Bulgarian leva (~50 000 EUR) could be paid only by the "oligarchs".

Mr. Ganley's Libertas won't get any MEPs from Bulgaria. Photo:

The issue of the electoral deposit was also raised by the "Greens" in Bulgaria who claimed the raised requirements (from 15 to 50 thousand leva for parties and from 20 to 100 thousand for coalitions) hinders democracy and is aimed at stopping civic formations from breaking the political status-quo. Most European countries do not require deposits for election participation while some apply symbolically low financial thresholds. Still, unlike the Libertas branch, the "Greens" managed to raise enough donations and registered for the elections yesterday. If they manage to get more than 1% of the vote they will get their money back.

The Electoral Commission registered 3 coalitions and 10 political parties which will contest the 17 Bulgarian seats in the next European Parliament.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Vote-rigging: the Bulgarian know-how

"Exitus acta probat" - Roman proverb

Ancient Rome and present-day Bulgarian politics have more in common than most people think. The connection is quite simple and is explained by a simple proverb - "The ends justify the means". In the Bulgarian case that translates into buying and selling of votes much like the old Roman practice.

This phenomenon dates from the first "democratic" elections in the country. Initially, the material stimuli to vote were rather humble and mostly for practical use - such as lids for jars, used by the peasants to store vegetables. The Roma minority was attracted by distribution of beer and meatballs (kebap).

The sign reads: "Bulgaria - that's you". Photo:

This "innocent" practice continued for the first 15 years of the new democratic history of Bulgaria. The 2005 parliamentary elections displayed the first warning signs of buying and selling of votes. The reasons for that should be sought with massive disillusionment with politics and lack of public trust in the political class. That coincided and was partly caused by the introduction of large-scale populism to the Bulgarian political arena. In 2001 former Bulgarian king Simeon (expelled by the communist regime in 1946) came back to the country on the wave of promises for new political morals and European living standard within 800 days. That populist appeal secured him a parliamentary majority but the failure to deliver on his promises led to massive alienation of people from politics.

In 2005, a journalist investigation during the election campaign by one of the leading newspapers "Trud" uncovered a strict scheme for buying of votes. Voters were organized in groups of tens, hundreds and thousands with respective people in charge on each level. The scheme involved people of different ethnic and social background. The common denominator – no interest in politics. No judicial measures were taken as the party involved subsequently entered the governing coalition.

A recent study of the "Open Society Institute" unveils a troubling tendency of people willing to "sell" their vote in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Over 30% of the respondents in a nationwide representative poll "do not rule out the possibility" of accepting money in return for their vote. If offered money for voting, 63% would refuse it, 5% would accept and vote for the respective party that offered the money, 16% would accept the money but vote on their choice or not vote at all and 16% are undecided on their hypothetical reaction. 43% of the people respond on a question about the minimum price of their vote. The most quoted number is 100 BGN (~50 EUR). As a point of reference – the minimum monthly salary in the country is 260 BGN.

Answers: I'll refuse the money and vote by conscience (45,5%) - green, I'll refuse and abstain (17,8%) - grey, I'll take the money but abstain (4,6%) - orange, I'll take the money but vote by conscience (11,8%) - yellow, I'll take the money and vote for the party that pays (4,1%) - purple, Undecided (16,1%) - white. Graph:

The impact and consequences of this now wide-spread practice are troubling to say the least. Political parties and candidates are not getting elected because of their program or virtue but simply by relying on strict schemes for vote buying. This further alienates the citizens from exercising their constitutional right to vote. The fewer people are motivated to vote by non-material stimuli, the easier it gets for the parties to secure representation and influence just by resorting to the already tested scheme: money -> power -> money.

It’s a vicious circle and it may easily influence the income of the European elections in Bulgaria. Now more than ever the country needs its European membership. The stopped pre-accession funds that Bulgaria was still benefiting from were a clear sign to the Bulgarian society that corruption and lack of rule of law will not be tolerated at European level. Does Bulgaria need an OSCE mission to monitor its elections and keep the country on the European track? The leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (the party of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria, ELDR member) Ahmed Dogan responded on a question about vote buying on the 2007 European elections that "this is a European practice". Is this happening in your home country?

Ahmed Dogan. Photo:

Friday, 24 April 2009

The issue of European energy security ... or who is the Russian trojan horse in the EU?

This weekend (24-25 April) Sofia will host an international forum on energy under the slogan "Natural gas for Europe, energy security". The forum was organized under the aegis of the Bulgarian president and was supposed to give an arena for negotiations on natural gas supplies for all the consumers of the region and the big exporters - Russia, Azerbaidjan, Qatar, etc.

Bulgarian president Parvanov and sheikh Hamad bin-Halifa al-Tani of Qatar. Photo: Dnevnik.

Two major changes of the initial plan and two significant missings mark the forum. The first draft of forum's final declaration included a paragraph that intended to put the Russian pipe-line project "South Stream" (by-passing Ukraine) among EU's priorities in the energy sector. Commission president Barosso threatened not to attend the forum and the paragraph was removed.

This change is the most probable cause of Vladimir Putin's decision not to attend. As some Russian media puts it "A lower level delegation is sufficient for a forum that is expected to come out with an anti-Russian declaration". Of course, in this case anti-Russian means any statement that can hit on the practical Russian gas monopoly in the region - such a non-discrimination principle in gas-transit and any good will expressed towards "Nabucco".

This time the Bulgarian center-right does not need to use the banners of previous Putin visits. Photo: Dnevnik.

Quite significantly, the European commissioner on Energy - Andris Piebalgs is also absent. That puts a question mark on EU's view of the forum. To provide a possible explanation I will use a quote of former Russian ambassador in Bulgaria Mr. Chizhov who said prior to country's accession that "Bulgaria will be Russia's trojan horse in the EU". NATO appears to have similar considerations.

So, no major developments expected from the forum if Putin and Piebalgs are not there, maybe a declaration of good will and some non-binding statements. But, there's always but ...

Bulgarian prime minister Stanishev flies to Moscow on Monday to visit his suzerain and few here in Bulgaria will be surprised if he comes back with a freshly signed contract on "South Stream", which will send "Nabucco" to the "dead-at-birth" category and surrender 50% of the Bulgarian gas-transporting system to "Gazprom".

On his last visit to Moscow Stanishev (left), together with the prime-ministers of Moldova Zinaida Greceanii and Slovakia Robert Fico (right) had to wait three hours before a meeting with Putin. Photo: Dnevnik.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

And the new President of the European Parliament is … or how a news was created

The Bulgarian elections for European Parliament will be held on 7th June - now the date is officially set. Bulgaria will elect 17 MEPs, one down from the 2007 mid-term elections. The electoral system is proportional with a barrier set at the so-called electoral quota which is 100%/17 (number of mandates)= 5,88% of the votes. Judging by the previous elections when just under 2 mln. people exercised their right to vote that would mean a party would need around 120, 000 votes to pass the threshold and get an MEP candidate elected.

120, 000 in a country of 7.5 mln. is a lot and it is not. It is a lot because people don’t show big interest in European elections and it is not because a good campaign with popular candidates can raise the public support needed. After all, 120, 000 is the size of an average neighbourhood in the capital Sofia ( 2 mln. inhabitants).

Probably led by similar considerations current Bulgarian MEPs and candidates are quite active in public discussions these days. Of course, the present representatives are keen on keeping their seat and the lower number of mandates for distribution will just make that task harder.

The discussion I visited this week was organized by the New Bulgarian University. The participants included the current MEPs Nickolay Mladenov (GERB) and Iliana Iotova (BSP) as well as MEP candidates Plamen Tsvetkov and Youseff Dakak (DSB), Atanas Shterev and Plamen Panayotov (BND). The discussion went in the usual constructive tone with the candidates trying to put focus on European, rather than national issues. One of the hot issues appeared to be the proposed ban on the import of seal products in the EU. The public as well as some of the candidates appeared to be quite informed on the topic and agreed on the need of such a ban.

As a blogger I felt I needed to ask a few questions that will spark a discussion. What personally concerned me (as a EU voter) was the de-facto permanent coalition between the two largest EP factions - EPP and PES which allows them to share the post of President and the vast share of commission seats in Parliament. So I asked the candidates how would they motivate me to vote for either of these if my vote would practically not make a difference.

Since the PES representative Mrs. Iotova had already left the discussion at that point I got an answer from the EPP group member Mr. Mladenov. He pointed the fact that EPP has elected the Parliament President with the help of the liberals in the past and promised that the new president will be an EPP representative and also … Polish. It remained unclear who will hold the presidency during the second 2,5 year term of the next parliament (probably again a PES representative) but at least a news was announced. The list of current Polish MEPs is here so pick your favorite. Just keep in mind he/she should be from the EPP ;)


Jerzy Buzek - MEP from Civic Platform (member of the EPP), ex-prime minister of Poland, elected to the EP with the highest number of votes in the country.

Monday, 9 March 2009

“The Bold and the Beautiful” or how the list of the Bulgarian liberals for the European elections looks like …

The nominations for the European list of the Bulgarian liberals (NDSV) were announced last week. The nominated are mainly women with high profile in politics, among them ministers, members of parliament and the Bulgarian commissioner Meglena Kuneva. Let's see who exactly got nominated to take a shot at an MEP post.

First, there's the present party MEP Bilyana Raeva.

Ms. Raeva has worked in the public administration before being surprisingly nominated to lead the NDSV list for the 2007 European elections in Bulgaria and subsequently become the party's representative in the European parliament. What not many people know about Bilyana Raeva is that besides being an A student she was also a republican skateboard champion at school.

Second comes the lady who also came second in 2007.

Antonia Parvanova came just short of replacing Bilyana Raeva as NSDV's only MEP - she needed just 5000 more voter preferences to come on top of the liberal list. Ms. Parvanova is a member of the Bulgarian Parliament now, serving her second term and medic by education.

The next in line is the Bulgarian European Affairs minister - Gergana Grancharova.

Just a week ago Gergana Grancharova married the former foreign minister Solomon Passi and changed her last name respectively. She's been European Affairs minister since her predecessor Meglena Kuneva was appointment to be the first European Commissioner from Bulgaria in 2007.

Last but not least in this line of nominations comes Meglena Kuneva.

If the other three candidacies could be grouped under the nickname "The Beautiful" then Ms. Kuneva comes to represent "The Bold". Nicknamed "Ms. Yes" during Bulgaria's accession negotiations with the EU, she became a Commissioner in 2007 when the country finally joined the union. Rumor has it, she will be offered the first position in the party list for the European elections in June.

The funny thing is not too many men names were mentioned when the nominations became known, but hey, who needs men when and if such a list is put together? The only risk is that voters might think it's all about a beauty pageant and not elections at stake. It will be up to the candidates to avoid blending the EU issues with the race for the crown in such a list.

P.S. To stop any speculations from the very beginning - I am NOT planning to vote for the liberals.

Monday, 16 February 2009

What's the price of democracy, Mr. Martens?

The President of the European People's party (EPP) Wilfred Martens is on a two-day visit to Bulgaria. He is scheduled to meet the Bulgarian parties - members of the EPP tomorrow (17.02) but already managed to give some statements to the press, one of which calls for the simultaneous holding of European and national Parliament elections in June.

This option is favored by most, if not all the EPP members in Bulgaria. However the reasoning that Mr. Martens provides is ambigious at best. As he puts it "It is not wise to spend too much in times of financial crisis. You could combine your elections" (quote in English to be available soon).The combining of the votes is estimated to could save approximately 20 mln. leva ( around €10 mln.). Is the price of democracy €10 mln., Mr. Martens?

Opinion polls show that the center-right parties would do better if the elections are held at the same date that could result in one or two more MEPs joining the EPP-ED group in the European Parliament. That seems to be the real motivation behind Mr. Martens position. The question is whether that result would justify the total mixture between European and national campaigns, issues and even candidates that a simultaneous vote will cause. Bulgaria has not held an accession referendum so an outright European campaign is needed even in simply informational sense. The vast majority of people in Bulgaria do not have a clue of what exactly the European Parliament does. The situation will probably not change if parties (including the European ones) continue to perceive European elections simply as a subject of their short-term strategies.

Monday, 9 February 2009

So, a referendum can be a positive thing?

Switzerland - the country that uses referendums most frequently in Europe, held another nationwide vote on Sunday. This time the question concerned the possible admission of Bulgarians and Romanians to country's labor market. The opinion polls predicted a close contest with the right wing Swiss People's Party (SVP) running a strong "No" campaign.

SVP presented Bulgarians and Romanians as crows. Source: AP.

Despite the predictions, Switzerland did not offer unpleasant surprises and almost 60% voted "Yes". That comes to show that the Swiss have understood the positive effects of immigration and maybe even the obvious fact that all Bulgarians and Romanians that wanted to work abroad are ALREADY there - mostly in Spain and Italy. But this is not the argument I wanted to make.

Since the rejection of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe in France and Holland, referendums in Europe have been perceived as challenges and obstacles to European integration. That is why 26 out of 27 countries opted to ratify the Lisbon Treaty without holding a popular vote. Ireland has been pointed as the tricky part in the ratification process and has received quite a lot of attention even before the referendum there was held especially because of that.

However, the three consecutive "No"'s should not let us forget that referendums can also produce positive results like it happened in Switzerland. Most people have also forgotten that Spain and Luxembourg have said "Yes" to the Constitution in referenda. And hey, you could never tell when a negative result is good - just look at Latin America ...

Hugo Chavez's ambitions of lifting the constitutional limit on presidential terms have been denied by a referendum in 2007.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

European elections - terms of use

Here’s a funny fact for you - did you know how the European elections could be used to serve the short-term strategies of political parties? I don’t mean the conventional pursuit of seats, representation and results for boosting the morals of party supporters.

In the country I know best, which also happens to be the poorest and officially most corrupt in the EU, parties are currently bargaining on the exact election date and the possible setting of national and European Parliament elections at the same time. Holding two different elections at the same date is not unfamiliar to the European political practice but in this case it would not be possible without a change in the Bulgarian Constitution. That requires a two-third majority in the National Assembly so the table is open for bargaining.

The thing is that the Bulgarian liberals believe they are perceived by the public as a strong pro-European party and holding the two elections at the same date will boost their national result two. On the contrary, their coalition partners - the socialists and the Turkish-minority party would like to avoid that option. They count on a low turnout (should the European elections are held separetely) and on their disciplined electorate to carry the majority of the European Parliament mandates. It seems that in this situation the European policies and EU-wide issues are the last thing that will decide the outcome of the European elections in Bulgaria. Any similar experiences in the other member-states?

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Blogging campaign for the European elections - start

The launch event of the blogging campaign for the European parliament elections (4-7 June) was held last week in Brussels. Under the title "Think about it", the event attracted 81 bloggers from all the EU member states - three from each country. The Bulgarians, including myself, somehow managed to field four playes in this competition - the other three being Alex Krastev, Boyan Yurukov and Nelly Gocheva. As visible from their sites, Alex and Boyan are quite experienced in blogging while Nelly is studying journalism in London and yet to post online.

Each of us had encountered the add of the European Journalism Centre (EJC) through a different channel as the event was mentioned only post-factum by the Bulgarian media. The organizers of EJC had taken a good care of putting up together a solid program for our two-day stay in Belgium. On Monday, Jan. 26th all the bloggers attended a series of discussions at the Sofitel Hotel with the participation of respectful names such as BBC's Mark Mardell, Tony Barber of The Financial Times, not to forget Julian Popov of Bulgaria. On Tuesday, the organizers took us to the European Parliament building which offered a refreshing opportunity to ask politically incorrect question to the MEPs and the PRs of the main politcal groups. Especially interesting to the public appeared to be Gawain Towler who is charge of the press-contacts of the Independence/Democracy parliamentary group. He could surely afford that as the group members are opposing the very idea of a European Union.

Not to get into needless details, here's the trailer of the event:

P.S. All the 81 points of view can be found at