It was 1970 and Bulgaria was looking for a grand project. The country underwent speedy industrialization, cities were pumped up with new workers, socialism was (supposedly) booming, and the Soviet Union was propping up its communist allies.
The choice was between a nuclear power plant and a new canal - between Varna and Ruse. Both of those projects were transformative for the economy and for the entire country. Yet Bulgaria couldn't afford both (and it actually didn't have money for either - the USSR was going to bankroll it and then receive payments on something like a reverse lease). It chose the nuclear plant.
This turned out to be a wise decision in subsequent decades since Kozloduy is still the main pillar of Bulgarian energy and economy.
But the other project was nonetheless designed, researched and filed. Just in case money was available one day.
This day is today, claim several Bulgarian MPs in the Europarliament. They want the Varna-Ruse channel to be included in the TEN-T network of most important European transport corridors and thus receive funding.
Now, don't get me wrong.
I love big projects. I find them fascinating, enthralling, a boon for the imagination and inspiration for young people to follow their dreams. Also, Bulgaria has been deprived of a dream since entering the EU and has been slumbering ever since (as a Romanian friend of mine once said: I long for the day our countries will have bigger dreams than fighting corruption).
But to be honest, this is not exactly a moon landing. The channel, if built, will supposedly help the navigation of ships between the biggest Bulgarian Black Sea port and the Danube. Yet the ships in question will have to be smaller, Bulgaria is not doing enough to support river-levels in the lower Danube anyway and it's not clear what effect, if any, this will have on the battle between Varna and Romania's Constanta, which the Bulgarian city is losing. The main effect, as admitted by the architects some time ago, will be on the irrigation of Dobrudzha.
But that can be achieved with other, cheaper and faster measures (the channels' worth is billions of euro).
If you ask me, I'd love to see a ton of money invested in new trains and faster connections between cities, repairing city centers and allowing for some growth to happen in those remote northern regions where population decline is steep. We've tried this, some will say. Yes, we've been dragging our feet around it for the past 15 years, with understandably little success.
The main reason is that people in charge of that are inefficient and corrupt. So here's a grand idea. Take the money out of their hands. Create a small and efficient task-force of capable engineers, designers and procurement specialists, and select a list of 10-20 projects covering the next decade that can change the dynamics of Bulgarian regions. They don't have to be "diverting rivers" big, but can be significant (how about a fast train Istanbul-Burgas-Varna-Ruse-Bucharest). Make it an "elite force" and let it work unrestricted.
Then use all the money available from EU programs, the Recovery and Resilience plan and loans for that. How's that for a plan? This is my idea, at least.
But we'd love to hear yours. If you have some thoughts for a new Bulgarian dream project - send it over to [email protected]
We promise to share them when we have enough.This newsletter is helped by
Politics this week:Borissov's wooing of WCC-DB ends
The short-lived outbreak of (near) harmony between the first and the second factions in parliament - GERB and WCC-DB - ended abruptly on Tuesday when Boyko Borissov dismissed the draft cabinet he demanded to see from the reformists as "too political". In typical Borissov style he simultaneously declared he would seek support from other parties in Parliament, and castigated the journalists for calling it what it is - a coalition of the status-quo.
Real government negotiations imminent
Regardless of rhetoric, however, readers of this newsletter know of our longstanding forecast: a GERB government, supported by BSP and MRF. You only had to see the faces of both parties when they realized their favorite scenario was looming, after a week of confusion in the face of Borissov's dabbling with WCC-DB.
In October 2022, GERB failed to gain support for its first try: a minority, expert-branded cabinet of Dr Nikolay Gabrovski was rejected. This time, however, the situation is more favorable and the path is clear.
Borissov seems to not be too happy about this second try, especially as it's clear this would be excoriated by many and galvanize the anti-GERB vote before the local elections.
But he always has another option - to let it all fail
On Thursday, he lashed out, blaming the media (alongside the parties) for the potential failure to form a government: "If all the political parties want us to fall into the abyss together - yes, we will fall. It is necessary for the Bulgarians to punish us as we deserve." He then proceeded to wish President Rumen Radev good health because "he would rule for a long time". Borissov knows his audience and is calculating on the weakening of his opponents, not on a sudden surge in GERB support.
Meanwhile: a "4-meter high pillar of fire", "3-meter crater" and 2 damaged trees
The Kremlin was not the only object of a mysterious bomb attack this week. Around noon on Monday, 1 May, a roadside improvised explosive device detonated ahead of a convoy of armored vehicles carrying Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev on the Sofia-Samokov road. It was later in the afternoon that Deputy Prosecutor General Borislav Sarafov gave a briefing. He announced that the bomb was very powerful (containing 3 kg of a TNT equivalent), caused a fire pillar 3-4 meters high and a crater 3 meters wide, and its purpose was not to intimidate the Prosecutor General, but to kill him and only chance had saved him.
It's highly disturbing that the face of the State Prosecution Service has been targeted. This would have generated significant headlines in Europe, but for several inconsistencies in this supposedly heroic story of a crime-fighter facing the wrath of his evil foes..
The crime scene was a primary source of doubt: trees were left standing, the road was hardly affected and the whole scene looked more like the aftermath of a car crash than a major bomb attack.
Ivan Geshev has many reasons to fear assassination: he's jailed most of the corrupt politicians and dismantled many schemes to steal public money. He's a devoted public servant and everyone knows he's a steward of the law.
Since most of that is not exactly true, it's hard to see who or why would want to attack him. He has enemies, of course, as he has been using his powers to benefit a particular group in Bulgarian politics, but the problem is - all the investigations in Bulgaria are dependent on the Prosecutor General, so it's kinda hard to believe the investigators.
Case in point: the debris was flying 10 times faster than a machine-gun bullet, said one of them. 10х720 m/sec equals 7200 m/sec which is roughly the speed needed for a satellite to go into orbit.
And third: timing
Since Geshev has a tendency to stage performances for the benefit of Mr. Borissov, whenever the latter suggests judicial reform is pending, this was chosen at the right time: GERB and WCC-DB agreed to finally pass a mechanism for the PG's oversight. A day later this agreement collapsed.
Media freedom: Bulgaria goes up 20 places
For the second consecutive year, Bulgaria has climbed the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) media freedom rankings. According to the index the country ranks 71st, or 20 places higher than 2022. Yet, don't rush to congratulate: "Although Bulgaria has moved up 20 places, its score has improved much less. You also have to take into account that Bulgaria is in a score range with very small differences between countries, which is therefore an area prone to fluctuations," explained Pavol Szalay, head of RSF's European Union and Balkans Bureau.
Nonetheless, it's worth noting that both GDP growth and media freedom are on the rise, since Bulgaria is in political turmoil.
Economy:So, we end the grain blockade
The caretaker government gave up on blocking Ukraine imports because Bulgaria, together with 4 other EU states from Central and Eastern Europe, agreed on a European Commission-brokered deal. The EC will impose central restrictions on far fewer products and will financially compensate farmers in those countries.
As we've noted before, money always goes to the rich, so grain-producers (who are amongst the ones who've benefited most from EU subsidies) will have a reason to raise a glass of champagne.
Also, we're going to surely miss the deadline for EU money
At least 800 million euros are on the line for three Bulgarian regions - Stara Zagora, Kuystendil and Pernik - and those are already forfeit, sources tell Capital. This is because their territorial plans needed to be submitted before the end of June, if the paperwork is to be finished by the end of the year and the money is to be released. Yet no one is probably going to do that because it requires firm dates for giving up on coal, which ALL the other EU states have already done (not to give up now, but to at least say WHEN).
Bulgaria, being the brightest of them all, will naturally drag its feet up to the last moment and lose the money. Let me restate here that we are on track for fulfilling our climate goals with Brussels either way. So that is just politics we're playing here and it comes at a cost.
Figures:1.14 bln levs
Speaking of a loss, this is the amount spent on Hemus highway to date, out of a total of 3.3 bln planned. Kilometers opened to the public? Zero. 800 million levs have been spent on parts that don't even have permits yet.
Is the main interest rate of BNB for May.
Is the growth rate for this year, as forecasted by the BNB. Coface is a bit more optimistic giving a 1.5% while most of CEE will go into recession.
0.6%Is the deficit at the moment, shows preliminary data from the MInistry of Finance. What's worrying is that spending is grow significantly faster than revenue - 24% versus 12%
Niki rotor aviation
The young Bulgarian company from Pravec has put a new autogyro on the market. This will be its new flagship model which they hope to bring an increase in sales, and they also plan a new component-production line with 20 more people - from engineers to designers.
Eleven Ventures have invested 1 million euro in the Romanian startup which offers corporations options from a more flexible hybrid work.
EnergyThe Energy regulator adopted a new gas price for the regulated market - 77 leva per megawatt hour, which is 21% below the price in April. Besides that, European indexes saw gas prices dwindling further and reaching levels before the war.
Meanwhile, Bulgarian right-wing party Vazrazhdane submitted a bill for imposing a moratorium on solar installations built on agricultural land. The party asks why the law does not differentiate between state or municipal land lending to investors. However, their plan to stop all solar projects, which are planned for municipal or state land, until an ordinance is passed, will set a precedent and sever business relationships with international investors.
According to the party, 40 million acres of agricultural land will get built with solar installations - arguing that it would result in negative outcome for farmers and crops. The information could be framed as misleading because this is a tiny part of Bulgarian territory and solar plants are invariably built on lands with low production potential.
Watch out for:People: Simeon Saxe Coburg Gotha
The last Bulgarian king (also called ex-king and also, incidentally ex-Prime Minister), will get 1.6 mln euro from the state because of the moratorium on the sale of his forests in Rila. This is a ruling from the European Court in Strasbourg after Bulgaria kept the moratorium in place for a number of years.
Nikolay Milkov and Ivan Kondov
The two career diplomats from the MFA made the news this week, as the former - who has acted as caretaker Foreign Minister in the last two governments appointed by President Radev - will head to Brussels to take charge of Bulgaria's Permanent Representation in NATO, which had been vacant for over a year. Mr Kondov, who has headed the Presidential Protocol and the Bulgarian Embassy to Spain, will take over as Caretaker Foreign Minister.
Is still the provisional date for Bulgaria's entry into the eurozone, the Finance Ministry confirmed this week.
The undisputed Bulgarian capital of music this summer will host not one, but three top-tier events for alternative rock fans: Burgas Summer Live (29 July - 13 August), Solar Summer (28 July), Spice Festival (4-5 August). The guest performers include the likes of Rosin Murphy, Morcheeba, Franz Ferdinand, The Editors and much, much more (expect our overview of the upcoming music festivals in Bulgaria soon).
The small seaside county registered the highest number of real-estate deals per capita in the country for 2022. The sheer number of deals - topping 10 thousand - is bigger than any other city except Sofia, Plovdiv and Varna. Nesebar, and its attached resort of Sunny Beach are a primary destination for seaside deal-seekers.
Yet, a little note of caution is required here. The last time the county registered such a high number of deals was in 2007 - just a year before the crisis.