Schengen is shut, Bulgaria needs brain surgeon and which are the country’s biggest businesses


Schengen is shut, Bulgaria needs brain surgeon and which are the country’s biggest businesses

Gov’t mandate roulette kicks off, Boyko is the (old) Messi, K100 business ranking now in English


© Reuters

So, it's certain now - Bulgaria's Schengen accession is not happening this year, and is (probably postponed) until at least next October.

Two states opposed Sofia's accession moving forward: the Netherlands, which cited the need for a new evaluation of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (an instrument that ended for Bulgaria in 2019 and has recently been officially dropped for both countries) and the Schengen Verification Mechanism (another unnecessary technical check after two were already completed in 2022, with the Dutch not sending representatives to one of these);

Austria, the other opponent of Sofia's entry, did not officially focus on the doubts (it likely) has about the rule of law in Bulgaria: Vienna based its decision primarily on the need to strengthen Europe's external borders. Or, as Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer explained it to local media: "We have too many migrants. We have 75,000 undocumented migrants. This is a security issue."

This brings us to the second, intertwining story of the week - an international journalistic investigation into police violence on the Bulgarian - Turkish border, carried out by eight media from different countries, including Sky News, the German public broadcaster ARD, the British Times, the French Le Monde and the Bulgarian section of Radio Free Europe.

The first part of the investigation showed how a young Syrian man miraculously survived after being shot (allegedly) on the Bulgarian side of the border. The second part discovered how the Bulgarian police authorities illegally held refugees in a brick shack used for detention, in miserable and inhuman conditions. All of this has been happening in front of the eyes of officers from the joint European border and coast guard agency, Frontex.

It's no surprise that Bulgarian border police are using excessive violence and illegally turning people back to Turkey - this has been known for years. More shocking is that, for the first time, there is proof that the EU is clearly informed of this through its Frontex officers (which are independent of Bulgarian authority), and acquiesces to it, while some other countries complain about Bulgaria's inability to safeguard its border.

All this transcends Bulgaria's indisputable problems with the rule of law and with protecting its borders. It raises whether Europe is serious about its migration problem, or will hide its head in the sand again and revert to a piecemeal solution like the 2016 refugee deal with Turkey (which practically formalized the illegal and unethical regime of pushbacks), and let the likes of Austria blame Bulgaria and Romania for it.

One thing is certain - this would not help anyone, neither the Austrians, nor the Balkan countries - or, for that matter, the migrants themselves.

This newsletter is helped by

Mary Ivanova, Anina Santova & Evgeni Ahmadzai

Special Issue#4: K100 Business ranking now available!

Author: KInsights

Crisis? What crisis? If one looks at the results of the top 100 companies in Bulgaria according to this year's annual K100 ranking of Capital weekly, you would be justified in asking this.

Explore KInsights' fourth and last special report for this year, full of compelling company stories, sectoral trends, opinions of CEOs, and, of course, the ranking tables themselves and get all the context you would need for what promises to be a turbulent 2023. It's available for purchase here.

1. Politics this week:

Brain-dead Bulgarian politics call for a neurosurgeon PM-candidate On Monday President Rumen Radev passed the first exploratory mandate to form a government to GERB's nominee, someone who remained unknown until the last minute, as tradition has had it over the past 18 months. This turned out to be neurosurgeon and deputy director of Pirogov Emergency Hospital, Nikolay Gabrovski. Mr Gabrovski has no previous political experience, is not part of the GERB leadership and, in general, is unknown outside his professional circles.

Selecting such a figure is yet another sign that GERB has given up on forming a cabinet. It will keep up the charade for some time, though - Mr Gabrovski officially launched its campaign to negotiate a coalition on Wednesday. He has one week to propose a cabinet, which can then be voted on by MPs in the Plenary. If GERB discovers there isn't sufficient support out there for their proposed cabinet, they can choose to return the mandate unfulfilled, without a vote. There is also the possibility that the first party would propose a minority government without clear prospects of approval in order to prolong the life of the current parliament by a few weeks.

Like Saturn (and the Revolution), Radev goes on to devour his children

President Rumen Radev, who kickstarted the careers of the current leaders of WCC, Kiril Petkov and Assen Vassilev, has now disowned the pair. Talking to journalists in Tirana, where he attended the European Union-Western Balkans Summit, Mr Radev declared his support for the duo had been a mistake and went on to attack them for "stealing the hopes for change" from Bulgarians.

"Do I meet Mr Borissov regularly? Of course not! This is not Mr [Assen] Vassilev's first lie. I was the first to be tricked when I trusted these people and now I am paying the price for my credulity. It was a mistake that I allowed such people to steal our hopes for change. Unfortunately, Bulgarians were lied to. But we will outlive this charlatanism," he erupted in response to Mr Vassilev's accusation that the President secretly collaborated with his ex-nemesis Boyko Borissov in sabotaging Bulgaria's Schengen bid and running the country over the last few months.

This is the latest spat in the deteriorating relationship of Mr Radev and WCC, who initially supported their political mentor in his reelection campaign. But their paths started to diverge soon after, with tensions especially boiling over regarding support for Ukraine.

Weapons donations to Ukraine: Yes! But it's a secret!

Talking of the besieged nation, after Parliament pressured the cabinet to finally send armed support to Ukraine last month, on 1 December the Council of Ministers approved a list outlining possible aid, as proposed by the Ministry of Defense. The list is marked "Confidential", but judging by comments from Economy Minister Nikola Stoyanov and Defense Minister Dimitar Stoyanov, it probably consists of light firearms and ammunition.

According to the Defense Minister, what Bulgaria is sending "will not compromise the fighting capabilities of the Bulgarian army" and does not include anti-aircraft missile systems or MiG-29 and Su-25 aircraft. It is known that Ukraine's ambassador to Sofia handed a list of needed items a while ago that includes artillery pieces, defense equipment, including air defense, shells, ammunition, tanks, APCs and aircraft.

2. Economy:

The euro looms

Bulgaria may begin trial minting of euro coins in preparation for joining the monetary union. The Bulgarian National Bank and the Finance Ministry announced on Tuesday that the European Commission and the President of the Eurogroup signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Bulgaria. It outlines the practical steps that will allow the country to start producing euro coins when it receives approval to join. Experts see this move as a sign that Bulgaria is on a sure trajectory to the eurozone.

Brussels accepted the Bulgarian agricultural plan for 8 billion euro

The European Commission has approved the Bulgarian plan for the development of agriculture until 2027. It includes investments of 8 billion euros in subsidies for farmers and measures for rural areas. Of these 8 billion euros, 5.6 billion euros are from the European budget, and the rest is national co-financing.

Bulgaria's plan is among the latest to get the green light from Brussels, just 24 days before its implementation begins, as the new Common Agricultural Policy comes into effect on January 1, 2023.



Is the annual GDP growth in the third quarter of 2022, show data from the NSI.

3. Business:


Nexo exits US market

Bulgarian cryptobank Nexo, which provides credit and deposit products through crypto, intends to gradually exit the American market. The announcement comes less than three months after eight US states took coordinated action against the company's deposit products, and days after a federal regulator, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, dismissed Nexo's complaint that it could not investigate its products.


Spark to enter Germany in 2023

Shared urban mobility company Spark is eyeing Germany and Poland after having rolled out its model in Lithuania (since 2016), Bulgaria (since 2017) and Romania (2019). "Germany is a well-developed market, there are subsidies and incentives for the purchase of electric cars, as well as free parking for them. It is logical to take advantage of this and test the market there," SPARK Technologies founder Nerius Dagilis told Capital and added that entering the market there would be possible no earlier than the second half of 2023.


Eleven Venture's last investment of 2022

The Romanian company Nestor, which develops a people intelligence platform for employee retention and development, has received the last investment of the Bulgarian venture capital fund Eleven Ventures for the calendar year 2022. The total amount of the round is 2 million euros with the lead investor Eleven providing 1.25 million euros. Underline Ventures also participates in this round, as well as angel investors from the USA.

4. Energy:

Electricity cap

Bulgarian businesses will pay at least 20% less for electricity bills from next year irrespective of what happens on the energy exchange. This became clear after MP's voted for a cap of BGN 200/mWh on the commercial sector. Households are protected from the regulated market.

So far, the state has compensated businesses for anything over BGN 250/mWh, which is why companies have not actually felt the significant volatility of the market in the summer.


Supported by a strong majority in both the energy and the economic commissions in the parliament, the bill for nationalizing Lukoil's refinery in Bulgaria was approved. The bill proposed by Democratic Bulgaria was approved at first reading and effectively means that the state will take over the operational control of Lukoil Neftochim.

The Minister of Economy Nikola Stoyanov also supported the proposal, but it was attacked by BSP's MP Rumen Gechev, who sees a risk for national interests.

Democratic Bulgaria MP Ivaylo Mirchev once again commented that the success of the legislative initiative would lead to a significant decline in fuel prices, as well as to real tax revenues from the work of the refinery, which did not fully pay taxes after 2007.

5. Watch out for:

People: Manol Peykov

The eccentric, but extremely socially engaged publisher from Plovdiv organized an unprecedented fundraising effort for diesel-powered generators for Ukraine, which collected more than BGN 550,000 from 2,000 people and companies in little over a week. The generators will go to those Ukraine towns that suffer from the Russian rocket bombardment targeting the country's power grid.



Former Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha created a storm in a teacup this week by receiving Russian Ambassador to Bulgaria Eleonora Mitrofanova and Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk, a close aide to Russian Patriarch Kirill, at his residence in Vrana. Just a day earlier, Metropolitan Anthony's visit sparked a protest outside the Russian Church in Sofia, where he celebrated a mass on the occasion of St Nicholas Day.


1 Оctober 2023

Several major European and Balkan telecom operators on Wednesday signed an agreement in Tirana to reduce call and data rates from 1 October next year.
Word of the week: Bulgaria's Messi

Former PM Boyko Borissov is famous for his love of footballing metaphors and so didn't miss another chance to seize on one this week when he compared himself to famous (yet "aging" by current standards) Argentinian player Lionel Messi. "Messi is 31 years old, but when he came[in a World Cup match], he scored the first goal," said Borissov.

Hence, the GERB leader explained to supporters in Vratsa, although he acknowledges his age, he reckons he'd have been the best candidate for the PM post because there is no one "more capable, or knowledgeable to lead you out of the crisis". But the Bulgarian political equivalent of Messi apparently "tore his meniscus" once again, as Mr Borissov did not, in the end, become GERB's PM candidate. This is not the first meniscus torn by our local Messi - in April last year, when GERB also won the elections, Mr Borissov arranged the composition of the Council of Ministers from the hospital on a crutch and shorts - because of a torn meniscus.

So, it's certain now - Bulgaria's Schengen accession is not happening this year, and is (probably postponed) until at least next October.

Two states opposed Sofia's accession moving forward: the Netherlands, which cited the need for a new evaluation of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (an instrument that ended for Bulgaria in 2019 and has recently been officially dropped for both countries) and the Schengen Verification Mechanism (another unnecessary technical check after two were already completed in 2022, with the Dutch not sending representatives to one of these);

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