Bulgaria : after the negative EC reports and before the parliamentary elections
publié le 2008-09-15
On 23rd of July, with the most holiday and a year and a half after Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union, the BG government received a very critical post-accession monitoring report from the EC.
In fact they were two reports:
The first one is related to Bulgaria’s progress under the Justice and Home Affairs sector. According to it, the fight against high-level corruption and organized crime remained serious issues the Bulgarian authorities had to tackle.
The second report assessed the absorption of the EU funding in Bulgaria. It became clear that the EC took the license off two out of four agencies entitled to handling funds under the PHARE pre-accession programme. The payments under the ISPA and the SAPARD were temporarily suspended. Based on established European funds mismanagement, the decision of Brussels was made public to block hundreds of millions of euro from the pre-accession funds destined for Bulgaria – the affair in question is for some 825 mln. Euro.
For the first time the EC took into account the opinion of the Bulgarian people in support of its negative reports / based on the results of the latest Eurobarometer’s survey/, seeing the impotence of the Government’s anti-corruption policy.
In a matter of fact, during the presentation of reports EC’s spokesman Johannes Laitenberger repeatedly pointed out that criticism was not meant to discourage Sofia /the capital/, but rather to encourage it to fix the problems as soon as possible. Brussels is aware that the Union cannot function normally and cannot display clearly the advantages of enlargement, unless its rules are duly observed across the bloc.
What were the first reactions of the VIPs and … the people in Bulgaria:
The Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov: « The EC report is a fact. There are a lot of critics in it. They do not have to make lead to the mistrust towards institutions and Bulgarian society because Bulgaria has gone to its European path and had achieved development ».
The Bulgarian Prime Minister/ PM/ Sergey Stanishev said: « The European Commission report is objective and Bulgaria has had problems in the judiciary and in internal affairs. But the suspension of funds is a normal and routine practice in other countries also. In the coming 6 months we have to make double efforts to be able to achieve greater and more tangible progress that will be judged on its merits by our society and by our European partners. The government is ready to pay for blocked money under EU projects from the budget ». Socialist PM and some cabinet ministers highlighted the poor positive estimation.
The cabinet: The Deputy PM Meglena Plugchieva defined the EC reports as « reports of critical solidarity. I expected some of the things we have achieved to be better appreciated, and I also expected that the EC experts acknowledged far more things than they actually did. We shall nevertheless continue our partnership with the EC, but I rely on more expert help on their part. Everything is entirely new to Bulgaria, and in my opinion, if we show constancy we shall yield results soon. »
The opposition: Ex-PM Ivan Kostov: « The expectations that EC reports will be relent don’t come true. What is written in the report is worst than we had expected. EC sanction is very serious. Bulgaria became a serious political problem for EU.The EC reports make indirect assessment of the work of the Bulgarian government and the governing majority. The political elite was discredited outside, and lost the confidence inside. This is the most critical EC report towards EU member state. At the international level, the image of the country is seriously damaged. Bulgaria became an incorrect partner, a negative precedent ».
A question arose: Can Bulgaria’s failure be interpreted as the failure of the EU Fifth Enlargement, thus putting an end to further enlargement? The answer of the Director of the European Institute Mrs. Juliana Nikolova is: « Yes, it can, because the old members and the EU have started to consider very carefully the point and meaning of integration. Much more serious and essential reasons are required for something to become an integral part of Europe. At present Bulgaria is not part of Europe – I mean a Europe viewed as a set of values. Bulgaria is part of breaking these values ».
The President of the Confederation of the independent trade unions in Bulgaria – CITUB /the biggest one in the country/- D-r Jeliazko Hristov: « CITUB expresses its great concern related with the conclusions of the EU institutions. Our members are deeply upset, hurt and perturbed of the facts shown in the reports. We feel very uneasy because of the inferences for the lack of determination to solve the problems – from the side of the politicians, the administration and the judiciary authorities. We could not remain indifferent when Bulgaria is compromised. The report is clear, the evaluation is objective, now it’s time to act. There are rules in EU, which have to be observed unconditionally.
The people – Frustrated by the rampant corruption and poverty in the own country, the majority of the Bulgarians welcomed the EU’s decision. A recent poll by the Alpha research institute indicated nearly 40 % of Bulgarians approved EU pressure on the government via financial sanctions. The latest Evrobarometer’ survey, published in mid-July suggested that 73% of the people do not longer trusted their government, with its approval rate reaching its lowest level since the country joined the bloc. Meanwhile confidence in EU institutions has surged, with 51% of people saying they trusted the EC.
They expressed clearly their discontentment with the present Government in the mass media – hard words were addressed to the present Government. Vex popular, vex die!
« The reports were the most scathing criticism ever leveled by Brussels at a Government of a member state » said the German Euro-deputy Mr. Markus Ferber and warned the EC could stop billions of Euro of the structural funds designed for Bulgaria.
The day when the European Commission published its latest monitoring report on Bulgaria the sixth no-confidence vote against the government was filed by the opposition. The motives for the vote were the moral and material damages incurred by country and its citizens because of violations in the absorption of the EU funds.
The tripartite coalition Government led by BG Socialist Party leader Sergey Stanishev organized a working meeting for consolidating their ranges. They also survived the sixth no-confidence motion. A total of 84 members of the Parliament from the opposition supported the motion on July 30 2008 with 150 voting against and one independent MP abstaining.
« We are not perfect but we cannot afford the luxury of having early elections, » Stanishev noted. He asked the opposition to display responsible behaviour, stop demanding early elections and stop calling for protests on the streets.
The nationalist party « Ataka » /Attack/ erected tents in face of the Council of Ministers, announcing the opening of a Parliament of the people and a permanent protest against the government for preliminary elections. Waves of national protests of the farmers, diary producers, doctors, nurses etc. were organized all over the country.
On the 12th of August 2008 in Sofia, the Bulgaria’s opposition parties have decided to launch a national petition against the government. It will be the first step in the opposition campaign to organize a day of national protest and a boycott of the government, after Brussels froze EU funding. Collection of signatures will begin on September 6, when the country’s commemorates its unification. The opposition invited both nationally represented Confederations of the trade unions to take part in. But the Confederations renounced to be involved in political actions. More, when the opposition was in power, they renounced any dialogue with the trade unions. Both they have chosen the wise tactic to support the present Government and to put in their demands now, when it is very generous of promises and ready for any populist actions.
Nevertheless, CITUB worked out a Memorandum addressed to the Government and the employers for the most important measures and actions to be undertaken till the end of 2008 and the whole 2009. A part, Its coordination Council started a national survey and campaign addressed to the employees and the workers: For protest and strike actions, but related with social and labour claims.
The horizon of the forthcoming parliamentary elections gives an additional political nuance of the situation, forces the parties to took own dividends to their contribution for the EU integration.
The cabinet approved a set of measures designed to enhance accountability, transparency and efficiency of the judiciary system as well as provide wider publicity for work accomplished – the so called « Action plan ». It consists of 80 measures and aims at overcoming the faults identified and criticism addressed to our country in the Annual Report of the European Commission to the European Parliament on Bulgaria’s progress in line with EU’s cooperation and verification mechanism. The plan provides, in compliance with EC recommendations.
The Council of Ministers approved a work-schedule of urgent measures and actions designed to update the Action Plan on progress indicators in the field of judicial reform, fight against corruption and organized crime for the August-December 2008 period.
In parallel a lot of social measures were implemented:
– the pensions were increased by 10.5 % from the 1st of July. The PM promised to raise them again by 10% from the 1st of October and to give the retired people the biggest 13th Christmas pensions up to now;
– 360 000 financially weak families will be given « energy aids » to be able to pay their bills;
– the Ministry of labour and social policy decided to give the retired grand parents a % of the minimal working salary to look after their grandchildren;
– the family allowances for children up to 18 years were increased;
– a Law for students’ crediting was approved;
– the subsistence’s costs for the children in social houses were doubled;
– free books for the children in the primary schools – provided, free clothes and a symbolic sum for the pupils of the poor families – promised;.
– the salaries of the teachers, the doctors and the administration in the Ministries were extended etc.
The people, tired of battles for surviving / the inflation for the last few months overcame 15%, the prices of the foods and the drinks put up by 25% / feel perplexed. They have to decide now whom to give confidence in the next elections. The choice is of vital importance for their everyday life and for the EU membership. They have no time for further false decisions. 20 years of « transition » and « mistakes of the growth » are enough. Now they are European citizens and want to be loyal partners and decent members of the EU. To regain its confidence and esteem. Hopefully, the next EC report will appear in a 4.5 months…
Irina Terzyiska European Labour Institute Sofia
Bulgaria has received important financial and technical support from the European Union in the pre-accession period and is eligible for continued high levels of financial support under the current 2007 – 2013 financial perspective (€6.852 billion from the Structural Funds alone). Pre-accession support – the PHARE program, SAPARD (agriculture and rural development) and ISPA (ecology and infrastructure) – and temporary financial assistance provided for in the Act of Accession – the Transition Facility and the Cash-flow and Schengen Facility were designed to help Bulgaria consolidate socio-economic reform i.e. the improvement of living standards and to prepare for the absorption of larger amounts of structural funds.