Sofia urged to keep nationalist party Ataka at arm’s length

Ataka leader Volen Siderov [Dnevnik, the EURACTIV partner in Bulgaria]

The two largest political groups in the European Parliament, left and right, have called on Bulgaria's new Socialist-led government to distance itself from the nationalist extremist party Ataka.

Bulgaria's political intrigues came at the centre of a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg yesterday (2 July).

Both the centre-right European Peoples’ Party (EPP) and the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) called on the new government in Bulgaria to take its distance from Ataka, a nationalist party led by former journalist Volen Siderov.

The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) came out second from the Bulgarian national election, held on on 12 May, but ended up forming a government with the party that came third – the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), representing the ethnic Turk minority.

Siderov's vote had been instrumental in providing the coalition with sufficient parliamentary backing, raising concerns among Bulgaria's European partners. The GERB centre-right party of former prime minister Boyko Borissov, which had technically "won" the election decided to boycott parliament and refused to back the coalition.

Snap elections?

The European Parliament debate on Bulgaria appeared as a political counterweight to the one on Hungary, held just before, where Prime Minister Viktor Orbán came under fire over the political situation in his country. While Orbán’s Fidesz is affiliated to the EPP, the current Bulgarian cabinet is led by the BPS, which is close to the S&D.

German MEP Manfred Weber (EPP) called for snap elections to be held in Bulgaria. He also slammed the Bulgarian Socialists for getting support from Ataka and criticised S&D and the liberal group for double standards in exposing democratic flaws in the EU.

European Parliament heavyweights Hannes Swoboda (S&D), Guy Vehofstadt (ALDE) and Daniel Cohn-Bendit (Green/EFA group), who had been active in the Hungarian debate, had left the hemicycle before the debate on Bulgaria started.

The S&D group too appears uncomfortable with the support BSP is getting from Ataka. Speaking to journalists hours before the debate, Swoboda called on the Bulgarian government to distance itself from the nationalist party.

Some Socialist MEPs however took the defence of the BSP. At the debate, British MEP Claude Moraes (S&D) countered EPP attacks, saying that Bulgaria is a functioning democracy, and its new government deserves a chance to stabilise the country.

Others had a harder time defending their party line. Bulgarian MEP Ivailo Kalfin (S&D), called Ataka a "nationalist and xenophobic party" but added hat if the EPP really wanted to isolate it, it only needed to tell its sister party GERB to stop boycotting parliament.

Kalfin said that following the 2009 election, GERB formed a minority government supported by Ataka, without any remarks from the EPP. He also remarked that that the EPP had been vocal against the boycott of parliament by the Socialists in Albania and Macedonia, but made no mention of the boycott of their sister party in Bulgaria.

European Commission Vice President Viviane Reding, who is in charge of Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, said that the Commission would act in the event of any infringement of EU law or of a serious breach of EU values.

These debates show how important is it for the EU to promote the rule of law, she said.

Background

Organised crime in Bulgaria is "unique" compared to other EU countries because it exercises a deep influence over the country's economy, according to the latest monitoring report by the European Commission published last July.

As shortcomings remained in Bulgaria and Bulgaria regarding judicial reform and the fight against corruption, the Commission has set up a Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) to assist both countries with judiciary matters after their EU accession in 2007.

The European Parliament has recently debated the state of democracy in Bulgaria, a country described as the "weak link" in the EU and a threat to European values across the continent.

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