The Brief – Juncker’s mysterious ways

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [European Commission]

The Commission used to be the best at pointing out Bulgaria’s shortcomings. But that is no longer the case, ever since Jean-Claude Juncker started offering his political friend Boyko Borissov a permanent indulgence, of the kind the Roman Catholic Church sold in the Middle Ages.

In Bulgaria, the European Commission was for many years on the side of civil society, which was in opposition to the government.

Civil society religiously awaited the regular Commission monitoring reports that would provide a credible diagnosis of the level of corruption and lawlessness, as well as a weighty sentence on the actions or inactions of successive governments on the matter.

Moreover, the governments were anxious – and sometimes panicky – about the possible results. Among the checks and balances in Bulgaria, by far the best and the most powerful was the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism.

But all that has changed since Juncker and Borissov started cosying up to each other.

Even though corruption in Bulgaria is escalating, even though high-profile murders continue to attest to how brazen the mafia is and even though Bulgaria ranks below Bolivia and Gabon on media freedom lists, Juncker says everything is fine thanks to his “friend Boyko”.

Bulgarians used to trust the Commission more than their own government. Civil society, journalists, young people, the diaspora, are extremely disappointed at having lost what they thought was their natural ally.

This is even more disturbing, partly because of the Bulgarian presidency, the country is drowned out by protest shouts.

Maybe Juncker has changed tack precisely because Bulgaria is holding the EU Presidency. But Polish colleagues tell me that exactly the same is happening in their country.

The Polish opposition and civil society are disappointed and worried by the attempts of the EU executive to build upon the positive momentum that came about with new Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki.

Nothing has really changed in Poland, they have just replaced the prime minister and it’s all fireworks and special effects, but Juncker’s Commission is eager to pretend that suddenly everything is fine.

“No one wants to take the hard line with Poland. It’s been going towards de-escalation since the start of this year,” an EU source said.

Next year Juncker’s term finishes and he will most certainly retire from politics. It looks like the long-serving politician is trying to arrange his own political funeral so that even rogue family members will look nice for the photo. But this macabre circus risks alienating the EU’s most ardent supporters.

The Roundup

Journalist Deniz Yucel was today freed from Turkish prison after a year behind bars. Accused of spreading propaganda, he was actually released without charge. But six other reporters were also hit with life sentences. Remember: #journalismisnotacrime.

Turkey’s president is turning international relations ‘back decades’ and Brussels and Athens should come up with a joint position to deal with Ankara, according to one expert. The Turkish customs union model could solve the Brexit impasse, which also threatens to ruin the UK’s health service.

Bulgaria’s PM has had a hell of a week, managing to rub his president up the wrong way, failing to push through an important piece of women’s rights legislation and being offered Russian citizenship so he can run against Vladimir Putin in next month’s election.

Lithuania celebrated its 100th birthday as Baltic leaders agreed the EU budget should increase after Brexit. The Netherlands thinks differently and wants funds linked to the rule of law, which Poland is, unsurprisingly, wary of.

The EU will this summer ratify an international treaty that provides publishers of materials like braille books exemption from copyright, so visually-impaired people can have access to, among other things, more literature. Tweets of the Week is out, watch it here.

France’s economy is doing well and Emmanuel Macron is reaping the plaudits but that hasn’t stopped Paris pulling the plug on a project aimed at helping Africa’s farmers.

Consumer watchdogs want fines levied against Twitter and Facebook for breaking EU rules. And speaking of dogs, it is the year of them, as China celebrates its New Year today.

Look out for…

Next week, MEPs vote on a number of important energy files, ECJ judges rule on a number of cases involving Poland and EU leaders flock to Brussels for a summit on a whole host of exciting topics: full agenda here.

Views are the author’s

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