Bulgaria before the Presidency: How European does it get?

Written by on October 20, 2017 in Perspectives - Comments Off on Bulgaria before the Presidency: How European does it get?

From January 1 to June 30, 2018, Bulgaria will get its first shot at the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, exactly 11 years after joining. The capital is scrambling to repair some of its rotten roads and conference centres, before thousands of guests will flock the Bulgarian capital during the Presidency.

Hardly anyone in Bulgaria celebrated the 10th anniversary of the EU accession, but now, just before the Presidency begins, Europe is hot again. About 55 per cent of all Bulgarians believe their EU membership is a “good thing”. Even the snowploughs, which will supposedly be cleaning Sofia’s streets this coming winter, will not just carry Bulgarian flags, but also European ones. I mean, how European does it get?

But this country could be more European than it is today. How come?

Bulgaria’s government includes the radical right-wingers of the United Patriots, but they do not really have a say regarding the EU, Russia and Ukraine, or Nato, at least so far. The conservative Prime Minister, Boiko Borissov, is pro-European and his European counterparts (those who are pro-European like him) appreciate that aspect. Bulgaria is not Poland or Hungary. Therefore, the country is truly European, in this regard.

Officially, Bulgaria is protecting the EU’s outer border. The Union thanks Bulgaria on a regular basis, while Western European politicians blaspheme in secrecy. On the quiet, they say Bulgaria’s borders resembled Swiss cheese more than anything, the country was not really able to protect those borders, due to the corruption and the lack of “juridical capabilities or factual possibilities”. But the official statements count. This means, Bulgaria is very European here as well.

Bulgaria’s economy usually demonstrates an impressive growth rate, thanks to the tourism and both foreign and local investments. The success of the economy might not help those Bulgarians who need it most, like the country’s pensioners who got 2.4 per cent more, which translates into about one loaf of bread per month. There may be a long way to go, but in connection with its economy growth, the numbers themselves, Bulgaria is not just European, but a even paramount example.

Yes, it is very European to invest into the infrastructure, to want to aid the Western Balkans states, to get rid of bureaucratic hurdles for passport applications, and to approve elaborate plans to combat radicalisation and terrorism. It is European to sign a “Treaty on friendship, good neighbourliness and cooperation” with Macedonia, or to appoint a national co-ordinator for the fight against anti-Semitism.

So, yes, Bulgaria is European. And it is not. Here is why:

It is not European to treat asylum seekers this way, by letting radical gangsters hunt them down in the mountains, by letting border guards beat, rob and detain them, or by turning a large refugee camp into a jail, just because radical, xenophobic, racist groups say the refugees had contagious sicknesses, which were a danger to Bulgarians. The Harmanli scandal, caused by Bulgarian authorities, was not European.

It is not European to ignore most minorities, including Bulgarians of Romani origin, or to appoint a radical right-winger as head of the National Council on Co-operation on Ethnic and Integration Issues, who calls Roma “ferocious apes” or “poor, wild, human-like creatures.” Neither is it European to ignore the LGBT community completely.

Politicians who pressure media, politicians who demonstrate homophobia in parliament are not really European. Neither is the unwillingness to come to terms with Bulgaria’s past, by letting former State Security agents become part of the government, MPs or even President. Refraining from pushing through a true judicial reform or the creation of an effective anti-corruption body is not very European.

Some of the issues mentioned, including the presence of radical, xenophobic forces in the government, might blow up in Bulgaria’s face during the upcoming EU Presidency, as the world, and especially the continent, will look at this country more intensively. Others might not.

After its turn at the Presidency, Bulgaria will hopefully have gone one step further, in the right direction, and therefore be a little more European than it already is.

By Imanuel Marcus

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About the Author

Imanuel Marcus is Associate Editor of The Sofia Globe. He is German and lives in Sofia. Contact: imanuelmarcus (at) gmail.com