It’s high time for the EU to take the side of the Bulgarian citizens

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

A man holds a banner as people take part in an anti-government protest in front of the Council of Ministers in Sofia, Bulgaria, 24 July 2020. Thousands of protesters met in downtown Sofia for another day of anti-government protests, demanding the resignation of the prime minister, Boiko Borissov, and the prosecutor general, Ivan Geshev, over claims of corruption and calling for early elections. [Vassil Donev/EPA/EFE]

EU leaders have to make up their minds and understand that they only have two options – to act on the side of Bulgarian citizens in their fight for a decent and modern European country, or to passively watch the failure of a member state, writes Radan Kanev.

Radan Kanev is an MEP from the Democratic Bulgaria coalition (EPP).  He contributed this exclusive op-ed as protests asking for the resignation of PM Boyko Borissov and Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev entered on Monday their 33rd day.

The European leaders, contrary to common political tradition, have an urgent strategic interest in engaging with the present institutional crisis in Bulgaria and actively assisting a national stabilization plan.

Normally, European leaders (let alone common European institutions) would not get engaged in a political crisis of an individual member-state, except for formally supporting a sister party, as certain representatives of EPP and ALDE/Renew, somehow shyly, already did in Bulgaria. However, the present situation in Bulgaria requires political action on a European level – not only because European citizens’ rights are obviously and flagrantly violated, moreover, because the image of EU institutions and main party families is at significant risk among the youngest and most active parts of the Bulgarian population (traditionally most pro-European and progressive).

For more than 10 years now, the majority of Bulgarians, independently of their political affiliation, (numerous sociological surveys attest to that fact) look to the European institutions rather than their national counterparts as a better answer to their problems. The top EU executives have a rather simple choice: continue with inertia and do nothing, or to answer the call of active Europeans fighting for the stakes of Bulgaria’s EU membership. Even if these reasons do not seem enough, EU and key European leaders should act – at least because the situation in Bulgaria is putting the NextGenerationEU priorities at stake.

The crisis in Bulgaria is not merely political, but institutional. Bulgarian citizens demand the resignation of Boyko Borissov’s government and will get it – one way or another, next spring at the latest. Change of government alone will, however, not resolve the institutional crisis. This crisis is fueled by large-scale state capture, media monopolization, systematic abuse of the Prosecutor-general’s huge unchecked powers and – last but not least – endemic corruption and failure to adapt the national economy to key European standards and priorities, the Green deal first among many. The institutional crisis, not always as active and painful as it is today, persists and even goes deeper for a decade, or in fact throughout the EU membership of Bulgaria, through various government formats. A new government is an important and necessary step, but far from a solution. On the contrary – if an unstable new government fails, once more, to cope with the main problems, a new wave of popular disappointment will eventually lead to chaos, social despair, and deep social and economic crisis. Most importantly for Europe – it will lead to a full-scale blockade of reforms and failure of the NextGeneration EU and Green deal efforts in a country, which is already notorious for its inability to meet European social and environmental standards.

It is obvious that the present Bulgarian government is unable to adapt the national economy to NextGenerationEU and the Green deal, due to heavy corruption, oligarchic dependencies and the key role of radical nationalists in the coalition. Even worse – the nontransparent use of EU money for protecting vested interests might compromise the whole initiative in the eyes of donor-states, taxpayers, and voters.

Bulgaria needs a minimum level of national consensus, a well-consulted and largely accepted national recovery strategy and program for modernizing and greening of the economy. Given the significant influence of various populist movements and the toxic media environment, such a task seems impossible without a strategic European interference.

Bulgaria needs at least a few steps in order to move forward – a date for early elections to settle the political crisis, a strategic multi-party agreement to reform the judiciary, a political consensus on the NextGenreationEU & Green Deal priorities and national plans. Each of these steps requires a steady push from key European leaders and political parties, especially from EPP and ALDE/Renew, both becoming ever less popular by every hour of silent support respectively for Borissov and Dogan / Prosecutor-general Geshev [Ahmed Dogan, historic leader of the Movement of Rights and Freedoms (DPS) is seen as the architect of the present system in Bulgaria in which a DPS oligarch, Delyan Peevski, and Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev, have more power than Borissov himself. DPS is officially in opposition, but it widely assumed  that they are Borissov’s secret partner].

EU leaders have to make up their minds and understand they only have two options – to act on the side of Bulgarian citizens in their fight for a decent and modern European state or to passively watch the failure of a member state. In the latter case, Mrs. Merkel will have to explain to her voters the collapse of Rule of law in yet another country, whose government she strongly supported, Mr. Rutte will need an answer to Dutch taxpayers about the shadowy disappearance of EU funds, and Mr. Tusk – to Polish opposition activists how and why EPP stands together with a regime, more and more similar to the one in Warsaw, which they desperately fight against…

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