Mediapool Weekly: June 23 - June 29, 2018

No Confidence Motion Fails with No Real Debate

The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) introduced a no confidence motion to Parliament because of government’s failure in the security sector. The motion was almost entirely ignored by the cabinet. While it was sure not to pass (the only MPs to vote in favor were BSP’s and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms’, which are far from sufficient), the reasons for the motion were quite legitimate and the political landscape would’ve benefited a great deal had a real debate on the specific problems been had.

Instead the majority overemphasized the vote’s low potential in the practical terms of actually passing and used that to ignore the actual issues on which the motion was based upon. Except for a few several-second clarification remarks by Menda Stoyanova and Financial Minister Vladislav Gouranov, MPs from the majority and cabinet member did not take any part in what should’ve been a debate. 

BSP leader Korneliya Ninova’s opening statement during the debate on the motion took some arguably unnecessary time to talk about ‘refugee crisis’, which is non-existent in the country but is a populist talking point across the Bulgarian electorate, hence – likely – the emphasis. She talked about the recent spike in prison breaks in several incarceration facilities.

We begin the debate on this motion of no confidence today, which is based on the security sector, amidst another escape from jail in Plovdiv.”

One particular issue BSP has cited is that “the ruling coalition is privatizing the security sector by transferring functions to private entities.

Ninova reminded that GERB had promised as part of its security platform that if elected will employ 6000 additional police officers and secure police presence in every town. According to her, however, to date 1000 new police officers have been employed but 2000 have left the system for lack of motivation.

The criminal incompetence of the Ministry of Interior’s management is demotivating police officers and prison guards.

She touched on the case from a few months ago when foreigners entered the country from Sofia Airport without passport inspection because the Border Police officers had left their posts.

She went on to issues that concern grand corruption and suspicion of political protection of criminal enterprises:

Who helps the drug traffickers, who tolerates the mafia-like groups?”, she asked rhetorically and referred to Vice Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov’s statements from a while back that one minister tolerates drug trafficking and another – the mafia. Ninova said that these words of Simeonov’s are a description of the uncertainty, insecurity and criminality that sits around the table of the Council of Minister.

Ninova mentioned customs and recent AFCOS finds according to there is evidence of infringements and other violations in Bulgarian customs.

The remarks about AFCOS provoked Menda Stoyanova and Vladislav Gouranov to take the floor for a bit, dismissing the claims citing technical circumstances.

After several statement Chairwoman Tsveta Karayancheva asked several times if anyone would like to take the floor. No one made a request and Karayancheva declared the end of the debate. Loud applause from the opposition followed. Some BSP MPs shouted from their seats that GERB would not defend its cabinet. It was apparent that the opposition had expected members of the cabinet to make statements but that was not the case.

After the so-called debate was over members of the majority, responsible for security policy talked to journalists outside the plenary. Vice Prime Minister, Minister of Defence, and Deputy Chair of the United Patriots Krassimir Karakachanov said:

I did not hear any substantial debate;I have not seen a more powerless no confidence motion.”

“I had prepared on all nine points raised in the motion. But when you have no one to talk to you, how could I respond?”

The Chairman of the Parliamentary Security Committee and Vice President of GERB Tsvetan Tsvetanov told reporters that it would be good if“BSP ask us next time before they file a no confidence motion: they are making no sense”. In his words even Interior Minister Valentin Radev hadn’t take part in the debate “because there were no arguments, no facts”.

PM Boyko Borissov commented after the vote that “the good thing about no confidence motions is that the alternative becomes clear: BSP and DPS, once again.

He took the opportunity to gloat about the “successful EU presidency” and to propose an alternative motive for the motion:

BSP are furious about the success of the EU presidency and are trying to cast a shadow on it.

The motion received 131 votes “against” and 104 – of BSP and DPS - “for”. In order to pass a motion must receive 121 positive votes. This is the second motion of no confidence for this third Borissov cabinet. The previous was also introduced by BSP. Its motives were failure to combat corruption and facilitating it.

PM Borissov at Brussels Summit for Migrant Policy: We are not Taking Back Migrants

Bulgaria will not accept back migrants, who have crossed through the country to reach Western Europe, PM Boyko Borissof told his EU colleagues at a special unofficial summit of 16 EU leaders, dedicated to migrant policy.

The Bulgarian Telegraph Agency (BTA) cites Borissov saying the “Chancellor Angela Merkel should request bilateral agreements [to take migrants back], once the outer boarders of the EU are securely and fully shut down.

PM Borissov announced that the 16 country representatives have requested from Joan Clod Junker to assess what kind of budget funds should be allocated for outer EU border security.

According to Borissov once the boarders are fully secured and there is a system in place for distributing border patrol along the EU border, only then could the member-states take solidary responsibility for migration.

This is what Angela Merkel is talking about, not to give us back – say – 60’000 back: of cource we won’t agree”, he repeated.

Firstly, before they send them back to me, they have to agree to build prisons and to keep them in them”, he said regarding the migrants already in the EU.

He reminded that the border police have caught migrants trying to reach Western Europe from Bulgaria about 30-40 times.

Let’s be honest – Greece, Italy, Bulgaria – we failed to prevent migrants getting to Germany. We did not fulfil our commitment, otherwise they would not have succeeded”.

In his words, the migrant influx in countries such as Germany is the reason they now want to return some of them to the countries of entrance, as Bulgaria.

Borissov highlighted that at the time the “media were showing drowned children” Merkel had invited them in.

If Merkel hadn’t told them to come, they would’ve still be in Bulgaria. Over 60’000 have crossed through Bulgaria to get to Germany”   

Everybody said Bulgaria has accomplished a lot during its Presidency of the Council of the EU for the migrant issue and that we have managed to find the necessary grounds for compromise to build upon. I was congratulated that this way the issues can be resolved quickly.”

If every country along the outer border manages to do the same, this would solve the problem with migration. A few things must be done in order to achieve this. First, the funding for the border countries must continue so they can guarantee that such a wave does not happen again. Second, the centers outside EU territory. Let us make use of the historical links some EU member states have – the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Spain – with African nations. To make flexible deals for these security centers  outside the EU. Not [for migrants] to be returned to Bulgaria or Greece from Germany but instead to be returned to Tunisia, Libya—from where they’ve come. This was the problem with the secondary reallocation within the EU will also be solved. Either way, we are helping African nations with enormous funds, let’s see where exactly and how they are directed so this migration come to an end.

These were some of the remarks and suggestions PM Boyko Borissov made to his EU colleagues and the media before and after the summit.

He was not present during all of it, however. Financial Times correspondent Mehreen Khan tweeted that Boyko Borissov had left the discussions to watch the World Cup game between Japan and Senegal.


Maria Cherneva

Prominent Bulgarian National Television (BNT) Resigns After Being Removed from Healthcare Coverage

One of the most well-known reporters of BNT, Maria Cherneva, was taken off the topic of healthcare, which she has been covering for over 25 years. A couple of days later she resigned.

The reason for removing her from covering healthcare was a letter by a chairman of a patient organization, which describes her work as a member of the public body of the Fund for Children Treatment.

The fund has been criticized for years for corruption and overall inefficiency, as was Cherneva as a reporter and as a member of the public body.

The affair spiked unprecedented public engagement, by citizens, NGOs, and patient organizations.

The Association of European Journalists (AEJ) also voiced its support for Cherneva.

The in which this temporary removal from covering a topic was executed can produce an environment of fear, as well as to … engage well-known mechanisms for auto censorship [among journalists and producers].


BSP MP Alexander Simov

A Month After BSP Dismissed Reporters Without Borders Index as Illegitimate, Its Shift Position

A month ago, when Bulgaria was ranked 111 in this year’s Press Freedom Index, BSP, among other Bulgarian political parties, deemed it illegitimate and manipulated. On Wednesday they cited it to help portray their sudden concern about press freedom in Bulgaria, or rather lack thereof.

The reason [for this press brief] is our deep concern for the media situation on Bulgaria and the mounting evidence that there is real and active censorship in our country.”, BSP MP Alexander Simov declared.

True, no journalists have been killed in Bulgaria but topics have.”, he said. He followed by citing the Press Freedom Report.

Simov’s announcement was made following a sudden cancelation of a political talk show by NOVA Televison, hosted by Milen Tsvetkov. It has been alleged that the cancelation is an act of censorship.

Public Defender Maya Manolova and Protesting Parents of Children with Disabilities Introduce Bill to Parliament

Public defender Maya Manolova together with the parents of children with disabilities, who have been protesting social policy since June 1, introduced a bill for personal assistance to Parliament. They gave MPs a five-day ultimatum for someone to process it through otherwise they will expand the protest activities. For the time being the parents have put up a tent protest in front of Parliament.

 The financial aspect of the bill was drafted by the Ministry of Labor and “we took an active role [in the preparation of the financial parameters], Manolova explained.”

Last week the bill was heavily criticized by the National Council for People with Disabilities, as well as by national representative organizations that have been in open conflict with the protesting parents.

Unfortunately the representatives of those organizations, which were most active in their criticism and personal attacks failed to find the time to participate in the public discussion of the bill”, Manolova commented.

In her words if passed, the bill holds the key to securing the basic rights of people with disabilities: personal assistance, care facilities, rehabilitation etc.

NPP Belene Once Again a Project of National Importance

Government overthrew its key decision for stopping NPP Belene on Wednesday whereby Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova received the official green light to search for an investor and prepare a procedure for the selection of a strategic partner for the construction of the plant by October 31.

The Council of Ministers went through a third round of altering decisions about the NPP Belene project: this decision overthrows the previous from 2012 for ceasing the project, which in turn overthrow two decisions from 2005 to go forward with construction.

The government justifies its decision now with a vote by Parliament from June 7, 2018 which approved the go-ahead to find feasible ways to build NPP Belene. Other conditions for going forward with the project, according to the Parliament vote, include the project be executed together with a strategic investor, on market terms, and with no state guarantees, which entails that NPP Belene’s assets and liabilities be extracted to a newly established project company.

Finance Intelligence Unit: Bulgarians with Offshore Companies Are Well Known

The financial intelligence unit at the State Agency for National Security (DANS) know the Bulgarians who own offshore companies, states the office’s Annual Report for 2017.

The report claims that these individuals are “notorious Bulgarian citizens, owners or clients of companies for which foreign offices have made inquiries.”

“Instances of inquiries into notorious individuals, who are either actual owners or clients of companies indebted in other countries are increasing.

Most of the large structurally significant ownership in Bulgaria is hidden behind offshore companies, while the actual owners invest a lot of effort of remaining in the dark. One prominent example for such ownership is “Yulen”, which is the recipient of the concession for the ski zone within Pirin National Park. On paper, the company is owned by indigent citizen of Cyprus.

According to the financial intelligence unit the most favored money laundering schemes involve “assets with high market liquidity, and those which provide a high level of anonymity.

Well versed schemes aim to invest large sums at once in order to simulate large investment interest.

DANS or the report itself do not give recommendations for mitigating these trends.

Cabinet to Grant Stronger Control Functions to Gambling Commission

The government will seek to increase the Gambling State Commission’s authority scope. Cabinet approved Wednesday the changes to its rules of procedure.

The amendments provide the Commission with the authority to make timely and in-depth probes into gambling institutions. They also improve the structural and organizational efficiency. The amount of probes and inquiries will also increase.

The changes follow an assessment by the Financial Ministry, according to which the Commission is not fulfilling its control function strictly enough.

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