I was in Qatar last week (hence the newsletter was taken over by my colleague Martin). You probably didn't expect this, did you?
Why should you, though? It's probably the first World Cup since Uruguay 1930 attended by no one from Europe. Ok, I'm exaggerating a bit, but not by much. At least 3 different people, all connected professionally to Doha, told me "you're the first person I met who came here specifically for the World Cup". It was, they said, mainly expats and people from the Gulf States, who came to the tournament. I can't testify to that for sure, but I can definitely say that there was virtually no home support for European sides at the stadiums I attended. The season, the prices, the logistics and probably the boycott all go towards explaining that.
To be honest, I didn't go just for the WC. You are getting a sneak preview of my Christmas article for Capital, so I'll be brief here, but let me share a few observations which I thought you might enjoy before the big final on Sunday.
Qatar, as I'm sure you're aware, is a very rich place. But I've been to wealthy places before and they never felt like this. That's because most of them are old money. Qatar, on the other hand, is brand new. And I mean just-bought-it-from-the-store new. It's very impressive to experience. Doha looks as if Amazon has just delivered some highways, metro systems, skyscrapers and stadiums and the unboxing was done yesterday.
Sadly, as you probably also know, that's just not the case. Those shiny features were all constructed by Asians toiling tirelessly round the clock this past decade. There were also lots of casualties: The Guardian famously put the death toll as at least 6500. This, combined with the allegations that Qatar basically bought the World Cup, is blemishing Doha's pristine reputation.
Yet, one has to say, any city that has strived to reach the sky, has paid in blood. The Smithsonian analysis of the roaring 20's in New York, for example, claims that 2 out of every 5 construction workers ended up dead or disabled. That's impossible to happen now in the US or Europe, of course, but it's still rife in developing areas. A 2016 study from the National Institute of Technology Surat and IIT Delhi estimated that around 48,000 people are killed in workplace accidents in India every year, with construction accounting for at least 11,614 of the fatalities.
So Qatar is hardly the exception - in dangerous working conditions, or FIFA-bribing for that matter. And consider this additional fact: the Qataris didn't work themselves to the bone for their dreams. The caste system allows basically for a local aristocracy which is born here and receives 8000 $ per month for that alone. They don't have to work. Others have to instead.
And there are plenty of others. Just look at that population graph which is unlike any other I've seen. Most of them are not citizens, just residents.
Now you start to realize why Qatar doesn't really care whether Europeans come. Europe is not the audience it's preaching to. It's the low-cost Asian and African workers who are fueling its growth and the rich folks who fill all those new hotels and get to experience Europe's luxuries and comforts, but without all the hassle.
Yet most of those people visit temporarily, for the money; they keep the service economy going and then they leave. I wouldn't exactly call this sustainable. There is an interesting story in the fabulous Museum of Qatar (designed by Jean Nouvel, because why not). It recounts how the economy of the little emirate depended entirely on pearl gathering at the beginning of the 20th century. Then a big storm destroyed 80% of the fleet and killed hundreds of people.This, coupled with the invention of artificial pearls, killed this off and Qataris endured some very hungry decades.
Having a huge gas field is not the same as having pearls. But there is a lesson buried here, which is why Qatari money is everywhere nowadays - from banks to sports. They even tried to give some to Bulgaria 10 years ago, yet we failed to take it (that's a whole other story which I've written about and, if you are interested, here is the link in Bulgarian). Their next goal is the Olympics in 2036 and meanwhile they are planning to be the world's event center if possible - conducting everything from big sport events to diplomatic gatherings.
And having been to shiny new Doha and returned to humble old Plovdiv, I have to say I'm actually glad we're not a petro-state. The people in power managed to steal billions from the EU while being monitored. Imagine what could have happened if no one had been watching!
I'd rather watch the final on the TV.
This newsletter is helped byMary Ivanova, Anina Santova & Evgeni Ahmadzai
Politics this week:First cabinet proposal, first strike
Bulgaria won't have a neurosurgeon for Prime Minister - at least for now. After GERB's nominee for PM Nikolay Gabrovski presented his proposed cabinet on Monday (mostly consisting of people from GERB's second echelon in the past decade, plus some ex-politicians for flavor), Parliament rejected it by 113 votes to 125.
This was no surprise. GERB, MRF and Bulgarian Rise approved the proposed government, while BSP, WCC, Democratic Bulgaria and Vazrazhdane voted against. All conspiracy theories were debunked. After the debate, Mr Gabrovski said he was "deeply disturbed" by what he saw. "I have the feeling that we are in an election campaign." Not wrong there, Dr. Gabrovski.
The result means that the second mandate now goes to WCC, the second largest party in Parliament, which will try to form a cabinet - and almost certainly also unsuccessfully.
Support for Radev and his cabinet wanes
Bulgarians' approval of parliament has, perhaps unsurprisingly, plumbed to unrecorded depths - just 9%. The same applies to the caretaker cabinet appointed by President Rumen Radev. According to a December poll carried out by the Trend agency, published on 12 December, just over a quarter (26%) of Bulgarians view the cabinet's performance positively - almost half last year's approval rating.
What's more, it appears that the clash between the president and the reformist parties, which has intensified in recent months, has finally rebounded on Mr Radev. For the first time he has a negative approval rating, with 42% percent of respondents approving and 46% - disapproving.
The electoral picture is similar to the last election - GERB leads with 25.8% of the projected vote. WCC is second on 19.2%, at a convincing distance from MRF (11.6%) and Revival (11.3%). BSP retained fifth place on 9%, followed by Democratic Bulgaria on 7.3% and Stefan Yanev's Bulgarian Rise on 4%.
Radev vetoes return of ballots, as proposed by the "paper coalition"On Wednesday, President Radev vetoed changes to the Electoral Code in the parts related to the return of paper ballots that practically eliminated machine voting, proposed by what was dubbed "the paper coalition" of GERB, MRF and BSP. In his reasoning, Mr Radev stressed that the new decision of the MPs has rendered machine voting useless, since in all cases the counting of the results will no longer be done electronically, but by a hand count by the precinct election commission.
Economy:Inflation slows for second month in a row
Inflation slowed in November and reached 16.9%, according to NSI data. This reinforces the expectation that price growth has passed its peak of 18.7% in September and is set to decline gradually. However, the slowdown comes mainly from gas and fuel prices which remain volatile on world markets.
The new regional program starts in Bulgaria, but 2.6 billion are blocked
The operational program "Regions in growth" represents the largest infrastructure program for Bulgaria in the 2021 - 2027 period. Its total planned budget is over 3 billion euro. Since 2007, billions of levs have been handed to municipalities under regional programs: from infrastructure and rehabilitation to playgrounds, parks, and joinery. The last time such funds were distributed to municipalities along these lines was more than two years ago which explains why mayors are anticipating the new program.
But there's a catch: the disbursement of 1.3 billion euros out of the total is tied to the EU Just Transition Fund, and Bulgaria, not surprisingly, is not ready with its plans, because we never decided what to do with the coal.
40.8 % was the annual growth of exports as of October, reaching 79 billion levs, according to NSI data.
There are currently 50,000 people employed in Bulgarian software companies. By 2026, payments for taxes and insurance from the industry should reach 2.9 billion levs.
Start upsSofia Angels Ventures
Romanian workers group Undelucram, which is also present in Bulgaria with its platform Kaderabotim.bg, has raised 1 million euros in venture funding. It will use the funds for its international expansion, as well as for the development of its own AI capabilities. Bulgarian fund Sofia Angels Ventures participated in the investment round with 400 thousand euros alongside Romanian-based fund GapMinder with 200 thousand euros. The company raised the remaining 400 thousand euros through crowd-investment platform SeedBlink.
CommunicationsNoble Graphics Is the most effective communication agency for a third year in a row. The company won Effie Bulgaria award, organized by the Bulgarian communication agencies association.
Energy:Kozloduy NPP accident shuts down one reactor
Bulgaria, which has been the major regional exporter of energy in recent months, was forced to import limited quantities of electricity from its neighbors on 12 December. This followed Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) having to close one of its two units due to a coolant leak in the third steam generator two days earlier.
Besides the risks of radioactive leaks (not very high, but present nonetheless) and the hundreds of millions of financial benefits forfeited, this sparked fears that Bulgarians might lack sufficient electricity for heating in case of colder
temperatures while the NPP undergoes repair in the coming month.
Luckily, Bulgaria still has its coal power plant in the Maritza basin. And on Thursday the 7th unit of the state-owned Maritza East-2 fired up early after a planned repair, resulting in sufficient electricity production not only to satisfy domestic demands, but also to restart exports.
Watch out for:People: Nikolay Denkov
The former education minister will likely be We Continue the Change's next nominee for Prime Minister.
The latest dissident MP to refuse to toe the BSP party line - currently set out by leader Kornelia Ninova - has been forced out. The young socialist MP was ousted from the party's parliamentary group for his take on the war in Ukraine, daring to say openly that Russia is the aggressor and bound to lose in the end.
The circuit breaker manufacturer won the first ever Factory of the Year competition, organized by Capital. It employs 9,000 people and has a revenue of 254 million leva.
PlaceBorovets and Bansko
British skiers have voted the two Bulgarian mountain resorts as first and third, respectively, in terms of affordability among 32 European ski destinations, according to the latest Post Office Travel Money survey. Which is another way of saying we're still the cheapest in Europe, (but, hey, not strictly true, if you factor in Sofia's prices!)
Old cars (20 years or more) will not be allowed to enter Sofia city center after December 2023. The Municipal council voted to introduce Low Emissions Zones on Thursday. The capital may become the first city in Bulgaria to restrict polluting cars. However, they only apply to the most polluting vehicles and it's debatable whether it will have much effect.