Mediapool Weekly: May 19 – 25 May

President of Bulgaria Rumen and president of Russia Vladimir Putin Bulgarian President Roumen Radev on an Official Visit to Russia, PM Boyko Borissov to Follow   “The absence of political will and friendship has always been counterbalanced by historical and personal understanding. Now it is important to rebuild the trust and to move forward with specific actions”, Radev said in an interview for Russian daily newspaper Komersant, published May 21. This was the day of his first visit to Russia and his meeting with Russian PM Dmitrii Medvedev. He met Vladimir Putin on the following day, Tuesday.   Radev announced before the meetings that he expects for the them to help “the two countries’ governments to form concrete measures and projects in all spheres.”   One of the main themes he focused on – which was also discussed later with PM Medvedev – was for the construction of a direct gas pipeline from Russia to Bulgaria, which he called “Bulgarian Stream”. The pipeline would help in making Bulgaria into a regional energy center. Radev further expressed his firm conviction that NPP Belene should be built, in order for Bulgari to remain, in his words, a “nuclear power state”.   Asked about the Russian sanctions Radev said:   My view regarding the sanctions is well known. They should not be reason for freezing relations. No sanctions are forever. The sanctions are harmful to everybody involved and are an ineffective tool. I think that free trade is what contributes most to peace, as far as it builds networks, whose demise is in no one’s interest. As for the restrictive EU measures against Russia, their goal is to resolve the crisis in Ukraine. If the sanctions are lifted, this would mean the fulfillment of the Minsk agreements by all parties. They would allow for the rebuild of trust between the EU and Russia, and – consequently – would enable the further expansion of the bilateral relations between Bulgaria and Russia.”   Asked what he thinks about his predecessor’s comments that Russia is financing certain Bulgarian political parties and is meddling in its internal affairs, Radev evaded the question and said that “[he] wouldn’t like to comment any of his predecessors’ actions … [and he] can say with confidence that in a country, historically affectionate towards Russia, such actions could only bring harm.”   Radev spoke about the possible renewal of NPP Belene:   “There was a time when those same politicians were proud of discontinuing NPP Belene. I think that [the restart of the project] demonstrates levelheadedness and sensibility on their part. This project has a future – but needs clear legal, time and cost frameworks.”   The president feels that Parliament will lift the moratorium on the project because “3 billion taxpayers’ leva have already been put into the project”.   He also said that there is “foreign investment interest in NPP Belene” and that he expects for the Bulgarian government to move forward with the project as soon as a strategic investor is chosen”.   Later, during the meeting with PM Metvedev, Medvedev said that he is expecting Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov for a visit on a higher level.   “I hope for our communication to intensify from now on.”   The next day Radev met with Russian president Vladimir Putin, who also declared that he is expecting PM Boyko Borissov to visit to continue the talks which were started with Radev.   “We have many more opportunities [for cooperation] than what we have accomplished. In several days we will have the pleasure of welcoming the Bulgarian PM to continue these discussions.”   “I expect for us today to make a strategic overview of our bilateral relations and outline not only the strong traditions and potential that we have, but also to pronounce the need for real action”, Radev said.   Government sources confirmed earlier that Borissov indeed has a visit to Russia scheduled for the end of May. He will also be visiting the Ukraine before that. It is not yet confirmed whether Bulgarian Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova will be accompanying him to Moscow.   The Russian agency TASS also confirmed the visit Wednesday and gave a specific date, May 30. TASS cited Yuriy Ushakov, an aide of Putin’s, saying that they “are expecting Borissov on a work visit on May 30”.   Borissov himself is not commenting on the supposed visit. Earlier that day he gave an extensive speech in support of restarting NPP Belene but he avoided the subject of the visit, which ultimately was announced by Russian PM and President.   On Friday Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva said to the Bulgarian National Television (BNT) that Borissov’s visit to Russia has been planned two months ago, denying the notion that the visit is being organized reactively.   She reminded that two months ago Borissov and Putin had a long phone conversation and that this visit “has been organized for a long time.”   Regarding NPP Belene, Borissov expressed astonishment from all “the hysteria” surrounding the subject of restarting it. “It comes down to the following: we have a site and the equipment, for which the Bulgarian taxpayer has spent 3.2 billion leva. If we don’t do anything about those merchandises – and mind you, those are not tomatoes or cucumbers but nuclear reactors - they will go from being worth billions, to millions, to becoming scrap. We are not rich enough to afford this.”   He said that “many countries’ top government and private companies have expressed interest in the project.”   To date those countries are China and Russia. Russia’s Rosatom confirmed interest in the project, the company’s deputy chief Kiril Komarov told reporters, as has the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC). The Chinese Prime Minister is expected to visit Bulgaria in July.   Borissov also described the possibility to sell the equipment as impossible. There was an offer by Iran for 100 million but selling the equipment could only be done after explicit permission by the manufacturer.   “We are merely trying to handle what the Bulgarian taxpayer has already payed for with the appropriate care.”   “Imagine – he continued – that the system suddenly loses 2000 MW. It could survive solely on green and coal power no earlier than ten years from now. During that time power will have to be imported.”   He concluded by saying that his own assertions from the time that his own previous government discontinued NPP Belene – that the reactors are not completed and are too expensive – were false.   A decision by Parliament about NPP Belene can be expected early June, which would be after Borissov will have finished his visit to Russia. The Chair of the Parliamentary Energy Committee Delyan Dobrev told Mediapool that he intends for the Committee to review and pass Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova’s repot on NPP Belene, so Parliament can vote on it the week after.   Demonstrations For and Against NPP Belene Held in Sofia   Supporters and protesters against NPP Belene both held demonstrations in Sofia on May 22. Both took place in the square in front on the Council of Ministers. They were divided by a heavy police presence.   Protesters against the government’s plan to renew the construction of the NPP Belene were led by Democratic Bulgaria (DB) and were carrying different posters calling NPP Belene nothing more than a massive corruption scheme.   Hristo Ivanov, one of DB’s leaders said to reporters that “What we stand for is for real responsibility to begin to be taken in Bulgarian politics. Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov didn’t come to power with a platform that mentions NPP Belene, nor with one that doesn’t include deep reform of the justice system.”   Across the other side of the square, in front of the former Communist Party Palace, supporters of the restart of NPP Belene demonstrated and were led by ABV leader Roumen Petkov and its founder and former president Georgi Parvanov.   Parvanov said to the demonstrators and media that “NPP Belene is going to provide clean energy, many new jobs and generate investment in the Bulgarian economy for decades to come.” MP Delyan Peevski Two Months Not Enough for Anticorruption Commission to Carry-out Inquiry Into Delyan Peevski   Two months after being asked to investigate and rule whether DPS MP and media owner Delyan Peevski is in a conflict of interest for submitting a media bill to Parliament, the Anticorruption Commission has asked for additional 30 days for the task, Club Z reports. This option is evoked in cases, which are “significantly complicated”.   The Legal office of the Parliament brought the case before the Commission two months ago. In submitting the bill to parliament MP Delyan Peevski has not declared private interest in it, although he owns the “New Bulgarian Media Group”.   The party Yes, Bulgaria (DB) alerted Parliament and insisted that the Legal Office take action in investigating the matter. The request was referred to the Anticorruption Commission.   Four DPS MPs, along with Peevski, introduced a bill to Parliament in February that would require for all media entities to declare information about their owners to the Ministry of Culture. Currently only published media are required to do so. The mayor of Mladost Dessislava Ivancheva The Special Court Removes Mayor of Mladost from Office   The Special Court removed from office the mayor of Mladost Dessislava Ivancheva, who is accused with corruption charges along with her colleague Bilyana Petrova.   The main argument of the court was that the Local Governance Act lacks a clause whereby mayors lose authority to exercise their duties when incarcerated.   The magistrates asserted that Ivancheva may legally fire or enforce disciplinary punishment on witnesses, who are part of the trial proceedings and work at the mayor’s office. The court agreed that the loophole in the legislation may provide an opportunity for pressuring witnesses. The court’s decision can be appealed.   The prosecution requested the removal of Ivancheva because she had signed documents as mayor while incarcerated. The prosecution highlighted that this means that Ivancheva is effectively exercising her full authority as mayor and is running the administration. She has signed an order to relieve her deputy Rumen Rusev from duty and appointing her PR Petar Karzhilov in his place.   “There couldn’t be objective proceedings if Ivancheva has the legal right to fire and enforce disciplinarily punishment on witnesses, who are part of the same proceedings.”   Under the same premise the court removed Ivancheva’s deputy Bilyana Petrova as well.   In the meantime, members of the administration of Mladost have not executed any of Ivancheva’s orders as employees are unsure whether the orders are legitimate. Consequently, instead of being removed, as the order would normally entail, Rumen Rusev is currently on sick leave.   Currently the person executing the office of mayor is Vladimir Klisurov. He told Mediapool that he has consulted many lawyers on the legitimacy of Ivancheva’s orders but opinions vary. Klisurov was appointed mayor by the municipality council without his consent. He has since submitted his resignation, which is currently being processed by the administration. However, the procedure of resigning requires for the mayor to sign off on it in order to put it into force. Thus it is not yet clear how Klisurov’s resignation could be finalized. Vezhdi Rashidov Vezhdy Rashidov: PM Borissov has Only One Fault: He Tolerates Freedom of Speech   The Chair of the Parliamentary Media Committee and former Culture Minister Vezhdi Rashidov told 24 Chasa Daily in an interview that MP Boyko Borissov’s only fault is that “he tolerates freedom of speech”. He was speaking about press freedom in Bulgaria and the fact that the country is last among all European countries in that regard, according to the World Press Freedom Index (WPFI). He suggested that the problem with media freedom in Bulgaria is PM Borissov being too good, which has unleashed a “sect” of “the smart and the beautiful”, the latter being a reference to the over-year-long protesters against the appointment of MP Delyan Peevsky for head of the State Agency for National Security (DANS) in 2013. Back then the phrase was used by media close to Peevski and other supporters of the government to undermine the legitimacy of the protesters’ demands for cabinet resignation.   “[Borissov’s] good attitude gave way for some people to cross the line and to attack him”.   “This group of people are deforming the media environment by taking away the freedom of speech of anyone who still carries the freedom of words with them”.   Central European Bank (CEB): Bulgaria Not Ready for the Euro   Bulgaria is not yet prepared to adopt the Euro, concludes a joint report by the European Commission (EC) and CEB. The two organizations prepare conservative reports on the progress of countries outside the Eurozone once every two years. The conclusion of the reports is that the country is not ready and highlights mounting corruption issues, and the justice system and central bank’s lack of independence. Although those are not formal requirements, they are obviously a deal breaker for acceptance in the Eurozone.   The reports affirm that Bulgaria fulfills the nominal criteria for adopting the euro, nevertheless, the final mark is negative.   Bulgaria meets the nominal requirements since 2012. For the next six years the country has not been able to fulfil the final requirement: remain in the ERMII - the so-called euro waiting room - for two consecutive years. This is only a formal requirement in the case of the lev, as it has had a fixed exchange rate first to the German mark and later to the euro, which means its value has remained unchanged for the past 20 years. Bulgaria has requested to be let in the ERII but Eurozone members have not come to an agreement on the matter, chiefly on political grounds.   Still, Financial Minister Vladislav Gouranov assured that regardless of the reports Bulgaria will file an official request to be let in the ERMII by June 30.   There is a real risk that if Bulgaria doesn’t begin the procedure of entering the euro waiting room now, this will become impossible the next time around, as the country might fail to meet the inflation requirements. Sofia’s head architect Zdravko Zdravkov Investigation Against Sofia Chief Architect Discontinues   The investigation against Sofia’s head architect, Zdravko Zdravkov, has been ceased, after intervention from the chief prosecutor’s office. Zdravkov was investigated for refusing to sign the permit for the construction of a 150-meter skyscraper in Sofia’s Strelbishte neighborhood. The investor is the company NIKMI.   The Supreme Administrative Court’s (VAS) decision requires Zdravkov to sign a separate plan for the site where the skyscraper is to be built but he refuses to do so. The separate plan is called for as otherwise the maximum permitted height of buildings in the area is 20 meters. Bulgarian GDPR Carries Risk of Shutting Down Public Registries   Amendments to Bulgarian legislation, which aim to synchronize it with GDPR carry a risk of shutting down public registries, the Access to Information Programme (PDI) alerted Tuesday.   Alexander Kashamov commented that the bill’s language is too unclear in the part about the registries, which allow for natural persons to be searched for by personal number. Those registries include the trade registry, property registry and many of the courts’ registries.   Kashamov underlined that the GDPR doesn’t restrict access to information such as that contained in these registries and called for refining the bill.   “We can’t allow for a misbalance in the access to information. A registry cannot be simultaneously public and non-public.” Opening of public procurement offers 20% of Public Procurement Deals with Serious Violations   According to a check by the State Financial Inspectorate (ADFI) 20% of public procurement deals have had serious violations in 2017, while other 19% - procedural breaches.   The total public procurement deals in 2017 were 1138 amounting to 1,26 billion leva.   The violations in 2017 have costed over 10’600’000 leva, which is 2 million more compared to 2016. Damages to the budget that were avoided were almost 4.5 million, or four times the amount from the previous reporting period.