27th Feb 2020

'Bulgarian trucker' replaces 'Polish plumber' in EU elections

The French politician who created the stereotype of the "Polish plumber" has coined a new "Bulgarian truck driver" cliché for his EU election campaign. But voters are finding the event a turn-off despite scandals involving topless girls, hunger strikes and the Taliban.

Far-right French politician Pilippe de Villiers, who launched the catchy plumber idea during his fight against the EU constitution in a referendum in 2005, is now promoting the notion that cheap Bulgarian truckers are coming to steal French jobs.

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  • The Bulgarian trucker - coming to a stereotype near you (Photo: MaxDug)

A Bulgarian driver costs €700 a month instead of €3,700, survives on just four hours of sleep a night and eats just twice a week, the myth-making politician is saying. Poland joined the EU in 2004 and Bulgaria in 2007, with their workers still legally barred from some EU states.

As many as 63 percent of French people do not plan to vote on Sunday (7 June). But the ruling centre-right UMP is in any case set to scoop 27 percent of ballots cast, ahead of the Socialists on 21 points and with Mr de Villiers' Mouvement Pour La France way behind on less than six percent.

In Denmark, just four people came to a 300 seater auditorium on Tuesday to hear a debate between two leading candidates, Bendt Bendtsen and Morten Messerschmidt.

Germany's Bild reports that the centre-right CSU party's choice of front-runner - an unknown, bookish engineer called Markus Ferber - could hurt its chances.

German intellectual Ulrich Beck in the Sueddeutsche newspaper says difficulties in characterising the EU are also part of the problem, despite Europe's political elite consolidating ever more power in Brussels.

He calls the EU "an old lady without a name," as it is easy to say what she is not: she is not a nation or just a big international organisation. But all attempts to say what she is have fallen short.

Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat says there are no good jokes about the EU because of its vague identity. Stand-up comic Lotta Backlund told the paper she avoids EU humour because it would hurt her career.

"All that it brings to mind is the curvature of cucumbers," University of Helsinki communications professor Pekka Aula said. The EU, unlike the US, lacks political drama because it steers clear of personality cults, dramatist Juha-Pekka Hotinen explained.

Scandals abound

The criticism comes despite a rich-vein of political scandals during the EU vote.

Italian prosecutors have launched a probe into whether prime minister and media baron Silvio Berlusconi used state aircraft to fly VIP friends to parties with topless girls at his villa in Sardinia.

Italian Radical Party (allied with the EU's Liberal group) candidate Emma Bonino has started a hunger strike at the studios of Italian state TV station, RAI, to complain about lack of media coverage for smaller factions in the country.

TV coverage is also causing controversy in Poland and Sweden. Poland's TVP is under fire for giving undue amounts of time to the small anti-EU treaty Libertas party. The Swedish public broadcaster has shut the minor-league anti-copyright Pirate party out of a major TV debate.

French authorities are investigating the legality of a phone call allegedly made by jailed terrorist Carlos the Jackal to "anti-Zionist" comedian-turned-politician Dieudonne during a rally.

Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders (polling in joint second place with 12 percent) has attracted strong criticism for comments he made in parliament about Joanie de Rijcke, a reporter who was kidnapped and raped by the Taliban.

Mr Wilders said the woman is "suffering from Stockholm syndrome" - a psychological disorder in which kidnap victims fall in love with kidnappers - in a situation symbolic of the Dutch left-wing elite.

His words were "very, very painful," Ms de Rijcke said.

Motivating support

Left-wing and green parties in Germany are trying to mobilise last-minute support from trade unions, according to Spiegel Online. In Spain, Socialist leader Jorge Luis Zapatero is using figures on falling unemployment to attract voters.

Romanian centre-right and centre-left parties are meanwhile bussing people to mountain resorts and monasteries for free meals in an attempt to secure loyalty. The Evenimentul Zilei paper says the Social democrats have spent €500,000 on electoral excursions.

Bulgaria's State Agency for National Security has meanwhile busted a vote-buying scheme, seizing over 210 ID documents, 140 bank cards, international passports and driving licenses in an operation on Tuesday.

Money-lenders had taken their clients' IDs to sell their votes, in exchange for promising to reduce the amount of money they owed, investigators said.

Green shoots

In the UK, the Greens could be quietly on the way to their best result yet in EU elections, despite masses of media articles on how the crash in popularity of the ruling Labour party is to benefit eurosceptic and far-right groups.

An internal Green party poll by ComRes gives it 15 percent, ahead even of the British Liberals on 14 percent. Other surveys show the greens on eight or nine percent, however.

The leader of the main Irish opposition party, Enda Kenny, has said that Ireland's ruling Fianna Fail faction should call early general elections if it gets a drubbing in the EU poll, mirroring political debate in the UK.

The former president of the European Parliament, Pat Cox, has come out in support of Fianna Fail MEP Eoin Ryan, who is battling to save his Dublin seat. Mr Cox is among those tipped to take over as Ireland's commissioner in the next EU term.

Dutch far right opens anti-Polish hotline

The Dutch far-right Freedom Party, a key ally of the centre-right coalition government, on Wednesday opened up a website to collect complaints about people from Central and Eastern Europe residing in The Netherlands.

EU confronts France and Germany on trucking laws

French and German laws require foreign drivers to be paid the local minnimum wage if the drive through the country. The EU Commission launched probes, saying it hampers the free movement of goods and services.

WHO on coronavirus in Europe: 'be prepared'

The European Commission also urged EU member states to review their pandemic plans and to inform it about their healthcare capabilities in response to the outbreak.

Frontex hits activist pair with €24,000 legal bill

Two pro-transparency campaigners received a €23,700 bill from the EU's border agency Frontex after having lost a court case. Frontex's budget for 2020 is €460m. The campaigners refuse to pay, saying the agency doesn't need the money.

'Fragmented' Slovakia goes to polls amid corruption woes

Saturday's elections in Slovakia could herald the rise of the far-right People's Party Our Slovakia, or the emergence of a populist anti-corruption candidate, in a country wracked by mistrust since the assassination two years ago of an investigative journalist.


Coronavirus: voices from a quarantined Italian town

Panic-buying, plus resentment at the media for fuelling the panic, are the paradoxical responses of residents of the Italian towns of Vicenza and Vo', where Italy's first victim of the coronavirus died last Friday.

Greek island riots require measured response, says EU

Residents on the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios have been met with riot police, following protests against plans to erect new migrant detention camps. The European Commission says measures by Athens' authorities must be "necessary and proportionate."

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