Bulgaria’s energy sector was the most susceptible to corrupt practices and needed urgent reform in order to “sever corrupt dependencies”, President Rossen Plevneliev told a round-table discussion on July 4.
Plevneliev, alongside deputy prime ministers Meglena Kouneva and Roumyana Buchvarova, as well as Justice Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva, was at an event organised by the Centre for Study of Democracy, a non-governmental organisation that publishes annual surveys on the country’s fight against corruption and organised crime.
“Corruption exists in all countries in the European Union. Bulgaria is no exception and is among the EU countries that feel the strong negative effect of corruption because of the dark inheritance of communism,” Plevneliev said.
He said that despite some progress made in fighting graft, corruption remained “abnormally high” and weighed “as an additional tax on society.”
The energy sector was one area that was especially vulnerable to corruption, which undermined the country’s national security. “Bulgaria could not operate as a sovereign country and position itself as an efficient member of the EU and Nato if it does not liberalise its energy market,” Plevneliev said.
Bulgaria was still paying the price for the failed energy projects with Russia – three deals signed under Plevneliev’s predecessor, Georgi Purvanov, that ended up being cancelled at one point or another: the Bourgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, the South Stream gas pipeline and the Belene nuclear power plant.
The Belene plant, especially, was “an astounding project, a symbol of anything but transparency, of the state supporting giant projects without economic impact assessments, without contracts,” Plevneliev said.
Plevneliev also offered words of support for the anti-corruption bill that MPs passed at first reading last week, saying that the fight against corruption required “missionary zeal and tireless efforts” and describing the draft law as the legal foundation for “public intolerance towards abuse of power”.
The bill – one of the signature initiatives of Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kouneva – is meant to create a new government body to fight corruption and conflict of interest. It envisions the merger of the cabinet’s anti-corruption office Borkor and the conflict of interest commission, as well as parts of the National Audit Office that investigate elected officials’ asset declarations and the asset forfeiture commission, creating one single body to fight corruption and conflict of interest, but some of its provisions have come under criticism from opposition parties, one of Bulgaria’s high courts and NGOs.
Kouneva has said that the bill’s deficiencies could be fixed by amendments tabled between the two readings in Parliament, but Plevneliev warned that “there is no way for the anti-corruption law to be a product of political compromise and still work well enough to change the system. To fight corruption, one needs consensus, not compromise.”