You've probably watched Novak Jokovic play some of his really competitive matches. From time to time, there's a point where he seems unable to find his best moves, kinda wandering around the court, lurking there and seemingly about to lose. Then he suddenly regroups, toughens up on the inside and starts returning, and returning, and returning. It's like you play against a ball machine: he just never seems to miss and always comes back.
This is very much like playing against the champion duo of Bulgarian politics: Boyko Borissov and Delyan Peevski. Whatever you do and however down they might seem, they always manage to return stronger. I know, I know - it's a boring topic we've covered so don't worry, I won't bother you with them for too long.
I just use them as an intro to local elections because it's the first week of the campaign.
Here is my view on what's going to happen.
At present, GERB directly controls 16 out of 28 regional centers and indirectly another 2. The newcomers WCC-DB have a somewhat realistic chance of winning in 3 of those: Sofia, Plovdiv and Ruse. Two of those three, however, are under a very big question mark, as the campaign in both Plovdiv and Ruse flounders for now (suffice to say, the candidate for Ruse was convicted for hitting a pedestrian on the day of the nomination).
So GERB might lose Sofia, which admittedly is a big chip but is not in danger of falling out in other places, regardless of the fact that it has been in power there forever.
And then again, what does "losing" a city really mean?
If you measure it simply by the mayor, it's one thing. If you mean local politics and the ability to influence decisions, it's quite another. And here, GERB is not only winning, but is in a vastly better position than the WCC-DB. Unconstrained by many moral concerns and fixated on the goal to not lose the key to the municipal coffers, Borissov's party is able to negotiate with anyone, even Vazrazhdane if it means attaining a majority in the local councils. So even if the newcomers win, they will face the same choice as at national level: you either play with GERB, or not play at all.
And I can safely bet what they will choose.
Now that doesn't mean things will be the same - after all, in most municipal councils in Bulgaria there will be a large group of people who at least claim they want transparency, better financial oversight and civic participation. Whether or not they will be actually able to get any of those things, is another matter.
This newsletter is helped by:Martin Dimitrov and Monika Varbanova
1. Politics this week:The newsman turned politician: surprise GERB nominee to lead Sofia
Speaking of Borissov, another masterstroke of his is always being able to make a splash. Even without him being present, the unveiling of the candidate-heir to the longest serving mayor of the capital Yordanka Fandakova, turned into a sensation.
It turned out that the unlikely candidate for the post is the former director of "News and current affairs and sports" in the largest private TV station bTV Anton Hekimian.
The ceoice raised many eyebrows, including within GERB, and even Mr Hekimian himself has failed to adequately explain why Mr Borissov chose him. Likely the answer is that he is young and popular enough to contest some of the ground that "belongs" to WCC-DB's Mr Terziev and he is also untarred with the dirty brush of party politics (just like all other major candidates), which is seen as a way to circumvent the growing disillusionment with traditional politics.
Watch the news tonight. Or don't
In any case, however, the nomination of the head of the news of one of the leading TV stations as a party candidate for mayor of the capital raises serious and disturbing questions about the independence of the media and how objectively it has so far covered events. "I've always asked Borissov the toughest questions," Mr Hekimian said in his first interview in his new role, but
That's not true and also, it's missing the point.
The big problem with him is not that he is a journalist (a profession which like many others is totally suitable for any wanna-be politician, I dare say), but that he's a news director. Under his guidance, many scandals linked to GERB - most notably Barcelonagate and the pictures of Mr Borissov's drawer - were brushed aside.
1 of 6: Reforming the secret services? Maybe later!
Most might not remember the official reasons why GERB and WCC-DB entered into a wildly unpopular coalition in May, but one of them was to free the secret services' leadership from foreign influence.
Well, this one (out of a total of six) priorities is officially comatose for the foreseeable future, as far as GERB is concerned. Last Thursday, ex-security officer and co-chair of Democratic Bulgaria Atanas Atanassov resigned as chairman of the parliamentary committee for control of the special services, citing the refusal of GERB leader Boyko Borissov to support his reform in the sector.
Mr Atanassov's proposal was to keep the counterintelligence agency DANS, but merge military intelligence and the State Intelligence Agency (SIA), assess the suitability of the entire senior staff of the agencies and potentially make cadre changes, and take them away from the auspices of the president, instead making them accountable to the Security Council of the Council of Ministers.
Yet, Mr Borissov said wartime is not a good time for reform and it should wait until the conflict in Ukraine is over. Whenever that is.
2 of 6: New anti-corruption agency stillborn?
Another reform - of the anti-corruption institutions might have a similar fate. On 21 September, MPs from WCC-DB, GERB and MRF approved the creation of a new Anti-corruption commission that is separate from the existing asset forfeiture commission (CIAF). If it's not deemed anti-constitutional even before it becomes fully functional it will have other issues. Read why in our piece from earlier this week.
Another US contract, yet some more billionsWe kinda bought F-16s some time ago if you remember. Now we're giving 2.2 billion levs for another US produced machine - Stryker armored vehicles. Almost 200 of them. It needs to pass through parliament yet this is probably already rubber-stamped, as we try to make good with the Americans, given that there is a war nearby. The Strykers, however, are "interim vehicles" as it says on their own website. This means we're probably going to need some of the other types as well.
2. Economy:Russian oil decoupling is coming
On Wednesday the Parliamentary economic committee approved at second reading changes to the law on the implementation of sanctions against Russia. According to the final changes, Lukoil-Neftochim Burgas is called to complete its transition to non-Russian crude oil by 1 October 2024.
The MPs wanted the refinery to complete this transition in just 30 days, but fears of potential shortages and price hikes led to the new date, which is still earlier than what the EU granted as a deadline (end of 2024), but no by much.
According to the texts, which still have to be approved by the General Assembly, by the end of this year the refinery can use no more than 80% Russian oil, by March 31, 2024 - up to 75%, by the end of June - up to 50%, and by September 30 - up to 25%.
Not exactly going to plan
The Government has decided to drop some of the projects under the Recovery and Sustainability Plan, Finance Minister Assen Vassilev announced on Wednesday. Yes, do you remember - there was such a plan and we are supposed to be getting money out of it. Except we're not, because we're delaying reforms and so, the plans are falling behind. According to Vassilev, this is related to the change of the financial framework of the plan, which took place in 2022. He said that, among the projects that are to be canceled, are his own brainchild - the battery plant project, as well as projects that should have been under implementation, like the project for a proton center for cancer treatment.
For the first time in decades, Bulgaria and Romania have launched concrete actions to improve connectivity across the Danube. The two countries have submitted to the European Commission a joint project for a feasibility study on a second Ruse-Giurgiu bridge that would include vehicles and rail roads. The busiest link between the countries, the Danube bridge at Ruse, has long exceeded its capacity and the need for additional facilities is pressing. The timetable foresees implementation by the end of 2026.
Is the annual growth in real estate prices for the second quarter.
3Cases have now been lost by Bulgaria in front of the European court for human rights because of the Law for confiscation of illegal property, because there needs to be a connection between the property taken and a crime, obviously.
3. Business:Offices International Work Group (IWG)
The British group is opening seven new locations in Bulgaria - 4 in Sofia and 3 in Plovdiv by the end of 2024.
SoftwareURBO The SaaS company received 2.3 million levs from the Bulgarian development bank as a capital investment. URBO helps businesses control their online sales through a common platform.
4. Watch out for:People:
Anton Zingarevich - the mysterious Russian-born tycoon, son of a billionaire close to Medvedev, owns a football team in Plovdiv. It's been a rough ride for the past 2 years and it turns out he's actually not that good at managing. But also, his club just got a brand new stadium from the state, for almost 60 million levs. Read part I of the story here and part II is coming up.
Romania's prime minister is growing ever more aggressive in his rhetoric and actions towards Austria. The latter is the only country left blocking Romania from joining the Schengen zone of the EU. "As prime minister of Romania, I won't accept the chancellor (Nehammer) being a hypocrite and humiliating my country further," said Ciolacu earlier this week. Romania is already blocking Austria's participation in NATO meetings, and is seriously threatening to sue it at the European court of justice.
So you probably know there is a Russian church in the middle of Sofia. You might have thought (as I did) that it's called Russian, because of the style of the building itself and because it was built by Russians. Turns out, it is really Russian. After Bulgaria threw out 2 Russian priests serving in it because of espionage allegations, the Russian embassy closed down the church for visitors. After the Bulgarian authorities tried to open it, it transpired that the Russian embassy got the deed for the Church back in the 90s. One more part of Bulgaria, owned by Moscow, then.
1 June 2026
Is when the labor license will be fully electronic