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