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Bulgaria : European disillusion

par - 01 Septembre 2007

Nine months after their accession to EU, Bulgarians are going through a painful learning.

The so expected accession of Bulgaria to European Union took place in January 2007. Many Bulgarians hoped it was a panacea for a better life. What happened ?
We have our deputies at the European Parliament and we are traveling throughout Europe very easily, only with our identity cards.
But here, at home, life is becoming more and more difficult each day. First, prices started to grow, for some goods gradually, for others with a jump. Since July 1st, electricity prices rose by 7.5 % for the population and 17.3 % for business. They were hardly affordable before… By mid-July, the price of bread increased by 70% and, according to the newspaper Novinar, “Bulgarians will have to obey Marie-Antoinette‘s call : eat cakes, not bread”.

Meanwhile, the National Audit Office announced on its internet site, that a government minister had earned last year more than 2 millions euros in addition to his wage. The economy and energy ministers and the vice-ministers of culture and justice resigned, accused of corruption.
Waves of strikes and protesting actions swept over the country.
First the drivers : the Sofia public transport drivers announced they would not work for such salaries. Frightened, the Sofia municipality called for an emergency meeting and doubled their wages.
Then, the teachers of primary and secondary schools raised their voice as their salaries were 150-160 Euro/month. They threatened to start an effective strike on September 15th, (beginning of term) and to cancel the school year, if the government did not satisfy their demands for a 100 % rise of their salaries. Last year, secondary school teachers of French undertook protesting measures, declaring they would give excellent notes to all students completing their secondary education.

Lately, doctors and nurses of the Sofia emergency hospital “Pirogov” started passive protests for higher salaries, modern medical equipment and a change of management. Their strike has been called off, achieving partial victory by changing only the hospital’s management.
Miners from Maritsa Iztok blocked Ruse-Svilengrad main road, close to Brikel EAD (southern Bulgaria), protesting against taxes on social payments and fighting for higher wages.

The government dismissed all demands for higher wages, announced the media. They quoted the government press service saying that the total amount of claims for higher wages added up to more than 1000 millions Levas. "Granting these demands is dangerous for our nation and society. Financial stability would be put to jeopardy, leading to an inflation that would eat away people’s incomes," the government said. Media recall that lately, similar remarks were made by Prime and Finance Ministers.

Otherwise, on July the 6th, after 3 hours discussions, trade unions and employers reached an agreement : wages in the private sector schould raise by 12.9 %. After the meeting, the negociators showed deep concern about the lack of qualified staff and emigration.
Unemployment was only 7.42 % in June, placing Bulgaria among the first 15 countries in EU. Bulgaria was recognized as the most popular tourist destination among new European Member States. From June to September 2006, overnight stays of local and foreign tourists amounted to 11,6 million BGN (5,8 million euros), an increase of 3,1% compared to 2005. Foreign tourists are accountable for 82 % of over night stays.

Irina Terzyiska

European Labour Institute Sofia

 
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Mots clés : Irina Terzyiska, Bulgaria, european union, strike, salaries, wage, corruption