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.