China took the opportunity to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic and improve its outreach and propaganda efforts in Bulgaria, as well as in many other countries. Sofia received at least two major donations, including respirators and masks in April and medical materials worth 250,000 euro in July. While not as extensive as in other Balkan countries, Chinese influence in Bulgaria is also becoming more and more conspicuous.
Mobility Despite years-long protests by Bulgarian and other Eastern European MEPs, the European Parliament finally adopted the three EU regulations, which aims to change the market situation in EU road haulage, known as the "Mobility Package" on 8 July. The new rules for posting of drivers, drivers' driving times and rest periods and better enforcement of cabotage rules sought to improve the wellbeing of drivers, while ending the distortion of competition from cheaper Eastern European hauliers, but were opposed by the latter as discriminatory against them.
Pulitzer The New York Times (NYT) won a Pulitzer award for International Reporting for a series of stories about Russia's shadow spying efforts across Europe and the USA. One of the awarded stories was that of Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev, who was poisoned by the GRU in a manner akin to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK in 2018 - an investigation that was first released by Capital weekly in 2019. Bulgarian journalist Boryana Dzhambazova was part of NYT's awarded team of reporters.
Sofia will have to navigate through the most crucial phase of the negotiation phase for the 2021-2027 EU budget while its government is shaken by protests and scandals. The deal is made even harder by the fact that Covid emergency package is also discussed and Bulgaria is poised to get a lot of money from it. As FDI into the country has practically stalled since 2009, the country relies mostly on EU subsidies to attain its economic growth. In the coming years, Sofia will have to rely on EU funds to revamp its ageing coal-based energy system and use all the financial help available to help repair the immediate damage brought by the Coronavirus pandemic and kick-start the recovery
The decision of the Turkish authorities to change the statue of the St Sophia temple in Istanbul from a museum, which it has been for over eight decades, back into a mosque, angered many across the Orthodox world. The temple used to be a major pre-Ottoman church and transforming it back into a mosque reminds leaders in the region about the neo-Ottoman aspirations of the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. So far official reaction in Sofia has been mute, likely due to its domestic crisis, but it is likely that the topic would sooner or later ignite in the public realm.
While Sofia is still to receive the first out of eight F-16 Block 70 jets, purchased for 1 billion euro from the USA last year, the country's air force is already planning the purchase of another squadron of Lockheed Martin fighters in the 2023-2025 period. The second batch of US-produced jets is supposed to completely substitute the ageing Soviet-made MIG-29 fleet that Sofia is still relying on for the protection of its airspace.
Bulgarian edible oil producer Oliva has signed a €90 million syndicated loan agreement with a group of international commercial banks. BNP Paribas Suisse acted as lead arranger, while the Black Sea Trade and Development Bank provided financing of €35 million. Oliva said it will use the funds to meet its increased working capital needs in view of the launch of operations of its new sunflower and rapeseed crushing and extraction plant in the Varna region. "This facility will help us to consolidate our position and bolster our strategic growth," Angel Georgiev, CEO of Oliva, said.
CloudCart, a Bulgarian startup developing an innovative platform for e-commerce, has attracted financing of €640,000 in a funding round led by venture capital fund New Vision 3 (NV3). NV3's financing amounts to €500,000, of which €440,000 will be provided through Bulgaria's Fund of Funds and €60,000 from private investors part of NV3. The remaining €140,000 will be contributed by private investors outside of NV3. "The Fund can increase its stake in the company by up to €1 million within a year," NV3 said. CloudCart will use the initial investment to open up new markets and opportunities in Europe, Nikolai Iliev, managing director and founder of the company, said in the statement.
US online payment firm Stripe said it is launching services in Bulgaria and Romania, among other countries, after raising $600 million through an extension of its Series G ground. "As a critical infrastructure provider, Stripe plans to invest further in growing its platform, including continuing to hire around the world; deepening its stack of software functionality to simplify online business; accelerating its geographic expansion (with upcoming launches in Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, and Romania); and pursuing strategic initiatives or acquisitions, no matter the climate," Stripe said in a statement.
Germany-based investment firm Freigeist Capital has invested over €1 million in Bulgarian nanosatellite startup EnduroSat. Freigeist Capital has acquired 3,914 preference shares in EnduroSat, which represents a 5.4% stake in the startup. "The investment will help the company expand its computer engineering team, launch its second satellite at the end of 2020 or at the beginning of next year and start offering a new shared satellite service to end customers which can be private companies, science organizations, universities or space agencies," EnduroSat founder Raycho Raychev said.
HeleCloud, a UK-based Amazon Web Services technology consultancy also active on the Bulgarian market, has acquired 100% of Bulgarian cloud software engineering company DataStork for an undisclosed price. The deal, supported through an investment by London-based Business Growth Fund, is in line with HeleCloud's ambition to become a leading partner for public cloud services in Europe, the company said in a statement. DataStork will continue to operate under its name as a wholly-owned subsidiary of HeleCloud. Sofia-based DataStork, founded in 2016, has developed a wide range of technical opportunities, covering Microservices, IoT, Serverless, DevOps, Big Data and others. Currently, the company employs over 20 software engineers.
The Bulgarian unit of German engineering company Robert Bosch said that its consolidated sales in the country grew by an annual 46% to 297 million levs (€152 million) in 2019. "We have achieved strong growth in 2019 due to increased demand for our products and services and strongly supported by our software development activities," Mihai Boldijar, general manager of Sofia-based Robert Bosch and representative of the Bosch Group in Bulgaria, said in a statement. Bosch Bulgaria's employees nearly doubled to 430 at the end of 2019, as the company opened an engineering centre last year following an investment of €3.5 million. For the current business year, Bosch Bulgaria's forecast is not so positive due to the coronavirus pandemic