The Bulgarian Presidency ends today (30 June) and so does this journalistic project. It started on 16 October 2017 as a blog, and continued as a news website during the six months of the Bulgarian stint, with a group of journalists reporting and commenting, both from Sofia and Brussels.
A total of 318 articles were published. The aim of the project was to help those interested in the Bulgarian Presidency to obtain quality journalistic content, in contrast with the prevailing paid public relations, pretending to be journalism. The project also was aimed a filling a gap: media freedom in Bulgaria is increasingly threatened, and the trend continued during the Presidency.
The Bulgarian government of Boyko Borissov didn’t like our journalistic project, as it was not something it was able to control. A lot of bad things were said about this website, to discourage potential sponsors (this goal was attained).
The Bulgarian government even asked the European Council for help to shut down the website, as it is hosted on the .EU domain. Of course, this attempt failed, and the Bulgarian diplomat who made the request was reminded that in the EU, there is something called press freedom.
The EU as a whole is fully aware of the administrative capacity of Bulgaria, a country where everything is decided by Borissov. Almost 30 years since the democratic changes of 1989, the country doesn’t have functioning institutions. Instead, just as under communism, everybody is waiting for one person at the top to decide. And when that person is too busy doing other things, problems are accumulating.
Consequently the expectations from the Presidency were so low that anything positive was seen as a big success. Fair enough. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said at the final press conference on 29 June that the Bulgarian Presidency was successful, because it was listening to the Commission. This made many journalists laugh.
Our expectation that the Presidency’s main challenge would be geopolitics was confirmed. The “Leaders’ summit” with Erdogan was a major highlight, and so were the visits to Russia of President Rumen Radev and Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, although they were held outside the EU remit.
Of course, it is better to speak to such powerful neighbours than not to speak. But Russia has always considered Bulgaria as its Trojan horse in the EU. Similarly, Erdogan has always seen Borissov as his advocate. It is clear that Moscow and Ankara are satisfied with Sofia’s servility.
Another expectation was that Borissov’s unhealthy coalition with the “United Patriots” would lead to messy situations, although we predicted that these would not bring down the cabinet.
The biggest blunder without any doubt was the one involving Ska Keller, co-President of the GREEN/EFA group in the European President, who inspired Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov to publish a statement containing threats and insults no normal media could possibly reproduce.
The scandal reverberated in Brussels, as Keller called from Sofia the Presidents of the Commission and Parliament.
Another major disgrace which revealed the primitive way in which Borissov and his aides hope to impress the foreign guests was the Youth Forum in Sofia last April, when among other things the volunteer staff were asked to applaud Borissov. Luis Alvarado, the President of the European Youth Forum, is quoted as saying that what happened in Sofia “was far from that reality, destroying the work of generations before us and disregarding young people at all cost”.
Borissov portrays himself as the protector of the Western Balkans, but the reluctance of countries such as France or the Netherlands to future enlargement, even after 2025, largely stems from Bulgaria’s poor record as a new EU member. Eleven years after accession, Bulgaria wasn’t able to get rid of the humiliating EU monitoring over its deficient judiciary system, breeding huge corruption.
Borissov also frequently delivers the message that he understands the problems of migration better than anybody else at the summit table. But the inhuman way migrants get treated in Bulgaria is not something he was prepared to comment, and the obedient Bulgarian press pretended not to see the revelations.
The many protests were held during the Presidency didn’t disturb Borissov, perhaps with the exception of one – of the mothers of children with disabilities. The possible reasons is that Borissov fears a political rival – showman Slavi Trifonov, who backs the protests.
Last but not least, the opposition to the Istanbul Convention from conservative strata of the Bulgarian society, including the United Patriots and the Bulgarian Socialist Party, didn’t contribute to good image of a country in the EU driver’s seat.
To finish on a lighter note, Penka the cow succeeded to solve a major issue: she created a judicial precedent, saving the lives of livestock which will cross the unguarded border between Ireland and Northern Ireland after Brexit.
In terms of international media attention, the Bulgarian cow eclipsed the Bulgarian Presidency. By the way, the obedient Bulgarian press almost ignored Penka’s predicament, largely because of instructions not to disturb the Presidency with stories that are not part of its official messages.
And yes, we are proud we accompanied and helped decrypt the first – and possibly last Bulgarian Presidency. We are grateful for encouragements and the positive feedback we received. Good bye!