‘Barroso’s girl’ runs for president of Bulgaria

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

EURACTIV's Senior Editor Georgi Gotev takes a look at former EU Commissioner Meglena Kuneva's decision to run in upcoming presidential elections in Bulgaria, arguing that her image as someone with experience and contacts in Brussels could give her a crucial edge.

Georgi Gotev is EURACTIV's senior editor. He has many years of experience working in journalism and diplomacy. He opened Bulgaria's first mission to the European Union in 1993 and has covered European enlargement for various Bulgarian and international media since 1998.

A shorter version of this article was published today (16 June) by the European Daily.

"Former Bulgarian Commissioner Meglena Kuneva has officially declared her intention to run for president in her country's elections to be held on 23 October, as an independent. Although the candidates of the two major parties – the ruling centre-right GERB [party] of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and the opposition Socialist Party – are still unknown, analysts agree that Kuneva’s candidacy is bringing excitement to the poll.

Experience gained in EU institutions has in the past boosted the careers of several other East European leaders on the national scene. Two years ago, EU Budget Commissioner Dalia Grybauskait? and MEP Valdis Dombrovskis left their European seats to return home, the first winning the presidential elections in Lithuania and the second becoming prime minister of Latvia. Could Kuneva, generally recognised as one of the best in the 'Barroso I' team, match their performances?

Kuneva calls herself a 'candidate of the citizens'. In fact, she lacks the backing of any traditional party. This could prove to be a handicap for her. Kuneva shuns the support of her own party, the NDSV, a liberal party founded by Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha. When the former king returned to Bulgaria in 2001 and won the elections by a landslide, Kuneva jumped on the bandwagon. It may look as if Kuneva was opportunistic, suddenly deciding to become independent only when the NDSV's popularity rating and Simeon’s personal rating hit bottom.

The best option for Kuneva would be to get the support of Borissov, who recently said his party was 'not so much interested' in the presidential post. But the PM has an unexplained deep personal dislike for Kuneva, having let her down when she was seeking his support for a second term in the European Commission.

A winning option according to local political analysts is that Kuneva would obtain the support of the Socialist Party (BSP). Nobody expects a winner in the first round. The socialist leader, Sergey Stanishev, has already said that the goal of his party is to prevent the GERB candidate from winning. Therefore, if Kuneva were to beat the Socialist candidate in the first round, the socialists could support her at the run-off and give her the victory.

A matter of image

It is unclear, however, if the BSP electorate would actually cast a ballot for the former commissioner. For the vast majority of the socialists, Kuneva is not a Brussels glamour girl. Angry socialists see her as the chief negotiator of the country's EU accession treaty, which in their view has sacrificed entire sectors of the Bulgarian economy, plus two nuclear reactors at the country's Kozloduy plant.

Kuneva's power base is the vast number of undecided voters, who have on a number of occasions brought to power new political experiments. Bulgaria has always been a sorry communicator in EU circles. In contrast, Kuneva is perceived to be a spin doctor and expert on EU policymaking. It is not by accident that she recently founded a new Brussels think-tank, symbolically named 'Government of the Future'. Kuneva doesn't have to spell it out, but her message is clear: 'I can open for you the Brussels 'chamber of secrets'.'

Gossip in Bulgaria frequently links Kuneva, who keeps her private life secret, to Barroso. Such alleged intimacy is unconfirmed. However, many Bulgarians like to say that 'good Brussels positioning should be good for the country.'

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