What's Up Bulgaria

Implementation of e-voting is postponed and the President calls for release of Ukrainian military ships6 min read

Bozho Kolov

Politics in Bulgaria in the last month looked much like the December air above Sofia:  misty, dirty, and dangerous.

– On November 22nd the Russian newspaper Kommersant published an article announcing that an extension of the TurkStream gas pipeline from Russia would cross Bulgaria on its way to Central Europe. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov hastened to name the extension “Bulgarian Stream” and declared that negotiations had been taking place for a while and were currently entering a “binding phase”. With this project, Gazprom is back on track to further bypass Ukraine in supplying Europe with energy. The European extension of TurkStream would replicate, to a great extent, the land route of the South Stream pipeline, cancelled in December 2014. The latter was scrapped after objections from the European Commission that it did not meet EU rules, namely the Third Energy Package and its requirement for separation of companies’ generation and sale operations from their transmission networks, The Sofia Globe recalls.

– On December 6th the legal committee of the Bulgarian Parliament approved amendments to the Electoral Code proposed by the ruling majority. Hitherto the law required the introduction of e-voting in the country by 2019, following the 2016 Referendum and the subsequent decision of the Parliament to adopt the reform supported by 2.5 million voters. This decision was withdrawn (postponed indefinitely) due to the “objective impossibility” of its implementation, as some MPs claimed, and because of alleged “security concerns” generally related to internet voting. The head of the legal committee (GERB) referred to a “collapse of the e-voting in Estonia” in his arguments against using such tool in Bulgaria, although the internet voting system in the Baltic state has been operating successfully since 2005. There are over a million Bulgarian citizens living abroad and only a small part of them actually votes in the ‘“foreign sections’” usually located in Bulgarian embassies or consulates. Internet voting might however dramatically change the outcome of any national elections.

– Without the votes of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the United Patriots, on November 23d the Parliament adopted a decision that Bulgaria will provide 1.5 million euros in humanitarian aid to Turkey. The decision was reached  as part of the EU-Turkey “refugee agreement” from earlier this year. Against the backdrop of both BSP and the nationalists’ continuous anti-refugee rhetoric, their lack of support for EU’s financial backing of Turkey to host asylum-seekers was literary left without arguments.

 Polish President Andrzej Duda (left) and his Bulgarian counter part Rumen Radev (right) met in Sofia in November. Source: Informo

– During the visit of the Polish President Andrzej Duda to Sofia on November 27th, both Duda and his Bulgarian counterpart Rumen Radev called for an “immediate release and return” of the Ukrainian military ships captured by Russian forces in the Sea of Azov earlier that month. On November 30th, however, Rumen Radev told journalists that “Europe should not become a hostage of internal Ukrainian politics and ambitions”. He has not elaborated on the statement since.

The Security Council of the Bulgarian Government announced on November 28th that “[t]he actions of the Russian Federation in the Bay of Kerch and the Sea of Azov towards Ukraine are unacceptable”. However, on December 7th, in response to a question regarding the hypothetical entering of foreign (NATO) ships in the Black Sea, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov answered that the region is a “wonderful” place for “conducting military action”. “There is [in the Black Sea region] perhaps one percent of Europe’s GDP, hence no threat [for the European economy]. If they think that we do not puzzle out these plans – they are wrong”, Borissov added, cryptically.

– On December 3rd, during the UN Climate Change Conference in Katowice President Radev pointed out that “When we speak about clean energy we should not forget that it is important to have secure and predictable energy […] In this respect Europe could help us a lot if it doesn’t create obstacles, as in the past, for Russian gas supply to Bulgaria and the whole EU”.

Bulgaria’s capital Sofia suffers from poor air quality. Source: Dnevnik   

– Pressure was put on the Mayor of Sofia Yordanka Fandakova during the first days of December. Poor air quality in the capital and poorly executed renovations in the centre of the city have added to the rich collection of reasons for large public discontent in the largest Bulgarian municipality. Vice Mayor Evgeni Kursev resigned on December 4th, days before he was charged with corruption-related crimes connected to the EU-funded renovation of one of the central streets in Sofia.

– Former Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev was re-elected for a third time as President of the Party of the European Socialists (PES) on December 7th at the party’s congress in Lisbon. At the event, PES adopted a few resolutions, one of which was Equal Societies: Social Europe which stands for “progressive income taxation” and “better distribution” of wealth. Interestingly, it was Stanishev who during his time as the country’s prime minister in 2008 introduced the “flat” 10 percent income tax (without exemption limit).

The current leader of BSP, Kornelia Ninova, did not take part in the Congress as her party is against the adoption of the international Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence and the UN Global Compact for migration in Bulgaria, which is supported by PES.

– In response to Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s words that the agreement between Greece and his country, signed earlier this year, “recognizes the Macedonian language” as a distinct one, Bulgarian Defence Minister Krasimir Karakachanov (IMRO, United Patriots) said on December 8th that he “would not accept people with unclear views and reverse interpretation of history to sneak in NATO and the EU at the expense of Bulgaria and the historical justice, moreover inculcating the Macedonian language behind the curtains”. “The Republic of Macedonia will continue its active, constructive and good neighborly policy in the future in the spirit of the Treaty with Bulgaria and the European values,” the Foreign Ministry in Skopje responded in official statement.

Although Bulgaria was the first country to recognize the independence of the Republic of Macedonia, most of its academics, political figures, as well as the general public, regard the language spoken there as a form of Bulgarian.

Main sources: Dnevnik (BU), The Sofia Globe (EN)

Bozho Kolov is a Political Science graduate from Sofia. After working and studying in Poland and Romania he decided to continue his education in the EU-Russia master program at Tartu University, Estonia. His main research interests are Eastern European Politics, Church-State relations and Socialist monumental architecture. Besides politics he is interested in literature and theatre.