The past six months have presented few opportunities for Bulgarian socialist leader Sergei Stanishev to score PR victories, either at home or abroad, in his capacity as president of the Party of European Socialists.
From widespread anti-government protests last year, sparked by the controversial appointment of media mogul Delyan Peevski as director of the State Agency for National Security – and spurred by Stanishev’s adamant and repeated refusal to answer the question who made the nomination in the first place – through the failed attempt to fulfil the election promise of easing the smoking ban and to the recent renewed challenge for the party leadership from former president Georgi Purvanov, Stanishev has been stuck in perpetual damage control mode.
On the PES front, Stanishev has faced constant criticism for his party’s reliance on far-right nationalist party Ataka to shore up the current government, whereas the anti-government protests marred what should have been an easy slam dunk, PR-wise – the PES council meeting in Sofia in June last year.
The past week added another unnecessary distraction – following relentless questions from PES’ main rival in European Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP), Stanishev’s spouse Monika has been forced to tear up the 60 000 euro contract to promote the European Parliament in Bulgaria.
In a statement, Monika Stanisheva said that the PR agency she owns, Active Group, had been awarded the contract following a public tender called by the European Parliament. She said that the contract had become the subject of “repeated attempts to burden it with unfounded and malicious accusations, to use it in unprincipled fashion and speculatively for political opposition.”
She said that the agency would return the 29 700 euro advance it was paid, but did not comment on the reports that she failed to declare her relationship to Stanishev in the tender paperwork.
That was not the end of it, however, with EPP MEP Ingeborg Graessle renewing the attack a day later, saying that EP president Martin Schulz (the presumptive PES candidate for European Commission president at the May 2014 European Parliament elections) should explain how the funding was given to Stanisheva. Graessle said the episode raised doubts that Schulz secured funding for “his political friends”, Bulgarian news agency BTA reported.
The issue may yet crop up again during the European Parliament campaign – the last thing Stanishev needs, if persistent rumours in Bulgaria that he seeking a senior EU position (possibly as Bulgaria’s nominee in the next European Commission) prove to be true.
This is not the first time that Stanishev’s political opponents have taken shots at him and his spouse – some even accused Monika Stanisheva of having behind-the-scenes influence in making appointments to senior positions in government, a charge both denied.
But it hardly helps Stanishev that this is not the first time Monika Stanisheva’s name has been embroiled in a public row concerning the use of public funds – in 2012, it emerged that Stanisheva had been involved in setting up a deal in 2006 between the Bulgarian government (which had Stanishev as prime minister) and Austrian lobbyist Peter Hochegger, who was tasked with “cleaning up Bulgaria’s image with European institutions,” according to reports in Bulgarian media at the time.
Hochegger received a total 1.5 million euro under the contracts with the Bulgarian government in 2006 and 2008, with Stanisheva – who was known as Monika Yossifova at the time – hired as a subcontractor and receiving a reported 380 000 euro. She had initially denied being hired by Hochegger, but later had to backtrack and confirm she had a contract with Hochegger.
(Hochegger was sentenced to two and a half years jail term in Austria last year on charges of breach of trust, falsifying testimony and money laundering, stemming from a corruption investigation that found that funds from Telekom Austria had been diverted to a right-wing political party.)
(Sergei Stanishev. Photo: PES)