The Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU is suffering series of image problems. After the scandal surrounding the EU Youth Conference in Sofia, it became clear that the newly renovated square in front of the National Palace of Culture (NDK) building, the main venue of the Presidency, already needs repairs only five months after it was completed. Krassen Nikolov has the story.
Krassen Nikolov is a journalist specialised in judiciary affairs. He works for Mediapool and is a regular contributor for BulgarianPresidency.eu for the six months of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU.
The building and the surrounding area were purposely repaired by the Sofia authorities, because a large part of the meetings for the EU Presidency are held in the palace. Last autumn, it became obvious that the works risk not being completed on time.
— Georgi Gotev (@GeorgiGotev) November 16, 2017
Then the works accelerated and the first foreign guests in January were received in decent conditions.
— Georgi Gotev (@GeorgiGotev) December 9, 2017
The cliché for Bulgaria in the western media is that it is the most corrupt state in the EU, which the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov stubbornly denies. However, the repairs of the NDK building and the surrounding area are among the most dubious projects of the municipality in Sofia, which has been run by Borissov’s party for ten years. The affair has the potential to embarrass Borissov in front of the eyes of EU representatives.
The entire rehabilitation of the NDK square costs the Bulgarian and EU taxpayers around €8 million so far, which looks like a very high price having in view the low wages of the workers and comparing the expense to other similar projects in the city.
The space just outside the palace, which is called Bulgaria Square, was last rehabilitated by GP Group LTD to the cost of €1.3 million. The construction works should still be under guarantee and the defects should be repaired by the contractor free of charge. However, it is evident from the disintegrated pavement slabs that something was very wrong in the repair works.
This, however, is not the total price for the repair of the square, which was done twice. First, in 2015, the Metropolitan Municipality paid another nearly €7.5 million from EU and from its budget to repair most of the square. The money was spent on repairs to the fountains, lighting, replacing broken granite slabs, placing an irrigation system, planting trees.
Out of ignorance or ardor, the builders repainted an element from the Berlin Wall, which was donated to Sofia from the authorities of the German capital.
Municipal workers plastered the Berlin wall fragment in Sofia, destroying graffiti, because they found them ugly pic.twitter.com/1xHwOVvrlG
— Georgi Gotev (@GeorgiGotev) December 3, 2015
Separately, defects occurred, and builders were also late for the completion of the site. Mayor Yordanka Fandakova announced that fines were imposed on contractors for a total of €200,000. The fines did not help much. A significant part of the granite slabs of the square have already been cracked, and some of them were damaged during the repair works.
Separately, the renovation of the palace building itself costs nearly €23 million the EU and the Bulgarian budget. Last October, former NDK manager Miroslav Borshosh was accused of illegally spending €1.5 million.
On the other hand, since the beginning of the presidency, Sofia residents have seen how a few times a week the poorly repaired square is washed with water and soap to impress the eurocrats. This is the only place in the city where the streets are so often washed, and detergents are used. Older residents of the city say they do not remember such a thing since 1981, when the palace was built on the initiative of Lyudmila Zhivkova, the daughter of the communist dictator Todor Zhivkov. The building itself was erected to mark 1300 years since the founding of the Bulgarian state.