"They just don't want us in, that's it". This was a diplomat's succinct summing up of the Netherland's attitude to Bulgaria's Schengen entry.
It's a rare thing for a diplomat to be so blunt. Yet that's basically true. Every possible check from the EU institutions, including the last by 17 experts from various countries, has indicated that Bulgaria and Romania are fit for membership in the border-free area. And have been, for quite some time.
Yet here we are, on the brink of yet another veto from the Netherlands, which is promising to keep us out of this European club for the foreseeable future. The vote looms on December 8 and it's not moving in our direction.
It's internal politics, of course. The Dutch government has huge problems with migrants and integration and lately, with organized crime. I will just quote the Guardian here, where some months ago the mayors of Amsterdam and Rotterdam warned of a "culture of crime and violence that is gradually acquiring Italian traits", extreme violence that often kills the wrong target, and €15bn to €30bn a year laundered into property, cannabis "coffee shops", tourism and bars.
So I understand why it's easier to transfer some of the blame to the outer edges of the EU, where those "nasty Bulgarians" are scheming and exporting corruption, minorities and crime.
On the one hand, it's very hypocritical of the Dutch to use us as a punch bag for other problems. Also, it's not fair to try to separate us from Romania as they are doing now, in order to let them in and keep us out, leaving Bulgaria as the only continental EU-country outside the zone. It's just bad politics and bad optics if you wish - it looks as if the Hague is trying to sacrifice us as some sort of no-man's-land between the border-free countries and the Middle East.
On the other hand, I concede that they are making a valid point, whatever the reasons. Bulgaria has a huge problem with corruption and organized crime and the problem is not that we're not ready for Schengen technically, or that we're not prepared to protect the EU borders. We are and we do. The problem is that information is leaking through and whoever has the connections and the money can penetrate the Schengen Information System.
But here's the thing.
It's stupid to assume we are the only ones with a problem like this. We're probably cheaper, so If you look at it from a market perspective, we're just undercutting the price. And if you keep us out, the victims will be Bulgarian business and citizens. The ones with the money are always going to find a way, be it through Thessaloniki or Rotterdam.
And what you're feeding is actually anti EU-sentiment amongst the population. Because, look at the graph below - the red shows people against Schengen entry and it's visibly growing. That's not a fire you want to play with.
This newsletter is helped byMartin Dimitrov& Mary Ivanova & Evgeni Ahmadzai
Politics this week:Elections are coming, again. How do we know? The Paper coalition is back!
The new Bulgarian parliament had one job - to come together and, despite all differences, focus on the vital tasks of approving new EU rules that would untap Resilience and Recovery funds and approve and update a budget for 2023. What happened instead? Three parties - GERB, MRF and BSP - decided once again to fundamentally change the election rules and practically eliminate machine voting (hence, they got nicknamed the "Paper [ballot] coalition").
Up all night to get luckyThey did so in an 18-hour-long session of the Judicial Committee in Parliament, which sat overnight between Wednesday and Thursday. At 8 in the morning on 17 November, the news broke that the Committee had approved the return of paper ballots, which were linked to high levels of controlled voting, long counting hours and a high number of invalid ballots. Machine voting stays, but machines will not be trusted with counting the votes, they will just hand out receipts.
To add insult to injury, the "Paper coalition" eliminated the proposal for a new electoral region "Abroad" and dismantled the expert civic council attached to the Central Electoral Commission.
"There has been treason against honest voters," is how WCC leader and ex-PM Kiril Petkov put it. The two reformist parties WCC and Democratic Bulgaria boycotted the rest of the General Assembly on Thursday.
The Great Fixer
In a surprise briefing so reminiscent of the heyday of his rule, former PM and GERB leader Boyko Borissov (who is not even in Parliament) announced his MPs will not back the return of paper ballots, after all. Yes, you read it right - two hours after his MPs carried out a day-and-night-long charade, the Deux Ex Machina came in to fix it all. So back to the drawing board
Hotels closed for UkrainiansThe nearly 10-month-long program under which Bulgaria welcomed Ukrainian refugees in hotels and, uniquely to Europe, gave them the opportunity to choose where to go, has ended. This is the caretaker cabinet's final decision after a great deal of soul searching about how exactly shelter should be organized in the future. Only people who had been accommodated in hotels under the programme up until 31 October can choose to stay in them until 24 February. State assistance for new arrivals will now be provided through accommodation by representatives of the National Migration Board in state and municipal facilities, the Galab Donev cabinet ruled.
Economy:As Schengen goes, so does the euro
Or was that some other saying? Anyway, we're not on track to enter either as things stand, so that's that. But here's an interesting view of how a draft analysis of the National Bank ended up being used by euro-deniers. Read the story here.
University rating 2022 is out
The 2022 edition of the Educational Ministry's higher education institutions rating was published this week, and there was some good news in it: unemployment among young graduates is almost non-existent, they manage to place themselves successfully on the labor market and their taxable income is growing. The number of students is increasing and they are orienting towards specializations more necessary for Bulgaria's economy. Check out the entire rating (it has an English version) here.
Is the overall employment in Bulgaria. Yet while it is almost 62% amongst men, it's merely 49.5% amongst women.
15%Is the growth rate of the median wage in the last quarter, which is the fastest rate since 2009. The net wage in Bulgaria now is almost 900 euros.
The Bulgarian second-hand smartphone company Swipe.bg has raised half a million euro in investment to expand its operations. The money was raised by the same two funds - Vitosha Venture Partners and NV3 - as well as a large number of angel investors. The investment is for a total of 15% of the shares in the company, which values it at over 3 million euro.
The employee benefits startup has raised 1.167 million euro in an investment round led by Bulgarian funds Vitosha Ventures, NV3 and Impetus Capital. The Re:Benefit platform offers employee benefits such as health insurance, sports cards, parking and transport vouchers, charitable activities and others. The funds will go into further development of Re:Benefit's software, marketing and sales, as well as its international expansion.
In 2023, the Bulgarian subsidiary of the Danish chain will open six new stores and renovate seven existing ones, Alex Bratu, regional manager of JYSK for Romania and Bulgaria, has announced. The newest branch of the chain was opened in Kardzhali on August 25. By the end of the year, two more stores are expected to open - in Plovdiv and Smolyan, and the existing one in Dobrich is to be renovated. So far, JYSK has 47 stores in the country; it also sells its produce online.
RetailDM Bulgaria Reached 215 mln. levs of revenue last year which is 23% growth. The cosmetics chain plans to open up 10 new stores in the country.
Energy:The regulated gas price will likely go up in December, inflating heating bills in the first month of the upcoming winter. According to the Bulgarian energy regulator the gain will be 18% even though the European indexes have not shown yet such a surge.
Watch out for:People: Georgi Gergov
The one-time Socialist mogul and oligarch from Plovdiv (and honorary consul of Russia) keeps on scoring points even though he seemed like he was cashing-in on his business. Now he got permission from the courts to receive a majority stake in the Plovdiv fair by acquiring the stocks Varna municipality owns there. That happened even though Plovdiv itself, as well as the regional governor and the government, were against the deal.
The caretaker Energy Minister (and sea captain) announced that his ministry will stop working with The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development because of "disadvantageous and one-sided proposals". This will put over 1.7 bln.euros in jeopardy, as the EBRD is supposed to be a consulting partner for the ministry in the Recovery and Resilience plan which is also going from bad to worse.
Organization:Ministry of Interior
Word of the weekJF Yanev
For some strange and, honestly, unfathomable reason, the former two times caretaker Prime Minister Stefan Yanev seems to be obsessed with late US President John F. Kennedy. Or at least we can gather as much from his Facebook profile where various quotes from JFK started popping out. While everyone needs heroes, and JFK is by no means the worst one you can have, one quote every day of the week is a bit much, to be honest.
But the best part of it all was when Mr Yanev quoted the famous (and already paraphrased from Dante Aligieri) line attributed to JFK that "the hottest part of hell is reserved for those who chose neutrality in times of moral crisis". Yes, this from the guy who quit as Minister of Defense at the start of the Ukraine invasion, toeing the Russian line that this is not a war but a special operation and that all support for the besieged country would "prolong its agony". Yet JFK probably helped Gen. Yanev to find his own moral path, as last month his new party voted to approve military aid. Go figure