Monday

26th Feb 2024

EU commission backs Bulgaria anti-corruption protests

The European Commission Tuesday (23 July) voiced support for the daily anti-corruption protests that have rattled Bulgaria over recent weeks.

EU commissioner for justice Viviane Reding at a Citizens’ Dialogue event in Sofia said she was “very much moved by the strong desire of the Bulgarian citizen to have this change, to fight for democracy, to fight against corruption.”

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  • Bulgarians are staging daily protests against corruption (Photo: Borislav Kiprin)

“My sympathy is with the Bulgarian citizens who are protesting on the streets against corruption,” she said.

Demonstrations in Bulgaria have been taking place every day for over month, triggered in part by the controversial nomination of Delyan Peevski, a 32-year old member of parliament with no intelligence experience, to national security chief.

Peevski’s family runs Bulgaria’s largest media outlet. The decision was later reversed in an effort to quell public uproar.

But protestors last Tuesday in Sofia gathered in front of the German embassy in an effort to gain wider recognition of their grievances among other EU member states.

They erected a make-shift ‘Berlin Wall’ in front of the embassy as a symbolic gesture of Bulgaria’s government ties with business moguls and oligarchs.

The commissioner drew similar comparisons on Tuesday when she said modern democracies and strong economies are “incompatible with oligarchies.”

Reding’s live two-hour televised event in Sofia is part of a larger debate on Europe organised around some 25 public discussions with citizens in 14 EU countries.

The commissioner, along with Bulgaria’s president Rosen Asenov Plevneliev, fielded questions from citizens upset with rising unemployment, poverty, political deadlock, and government corruption.

“We [European Commission] feel the necessity, we feel the obligation, but we feel also by heart that we have to come to help you, because you fight actually for Bulgarian values, yes, but those are European values,” she told reporters after the debate.

Reding said she could not interfere with the internal affairs of the state but would deliver the public’s message back to Brussels.

The commission’s monitoring report on Bulgaria, the so-called CVM, will remain in place until the government delivers on much needed judicial reforms.

“We are keeping it [CVM] to exercise pressure,” she said.

She also appealed for a solution to the on-going political deadlock between the governing coalition and the main opposition centre-right Gerb.

Gerb has been boycotting the parliament since June following a snap general election in May that provided no clear majority.

The group had won the most seats but demanded a new election code after prosecutors seized a cache of 350,000 illegal ballot papers in a print shop that belongs to a local Gerb official.

Reding told the two sides to “stop their quarrelling” and instead exercise their obligations as elected officials to solve problems instead of creating them.

Gerb is now prepared to return to the parliament as of Tuesday.

“We left parliament to show empathy toward the tens of thousands of people in the streets who do not want this government, and now we will return due to the budget,” said Gerb leader and former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, reports Sofia News Agency Novinite.

Borisov, for his part, resigned as prime minister in February following public uproar over high-energy prices and poverty.

Bulgaria has received nearly €10 billion of EU funding but remains the poorest member state.

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Political turmoil is set to continue in Bulgaria after Sunday's general elections, as the tight result will make the formation of a coalition government difficult.

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EU candidate countries such as Albania, Montenegro and Serbia have relatively poor press freedoms - but still fare much better than Bulgaria, an EU state whose ranking in the World Press Freedom index has plummeted.

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