The non-representation of Bulgaria at the 5th EU-Africa summit in Abidjan on 29-30 November would be in contradiction with its upcoming role as holder of the EU presidency and as such, of of being at the forefront of humanism, warns Teodor Kalpakchiev.
Teodor Kalpakchiev, is a Governance and Political Inclusion Fellow to the 5th African Union – European Union Summit. He has submitted this commentary exclusively to BulgarianPresidency.eu
The implosion of happenings around and inside the EU, such as the Ukrainian revolution, the war in Syria, the continuous power struggle between the Haftar and the UN-backed Tripoli in Libya, as well as the migrant humanitarianism and self-emancipation tendencies have accumulated considerable energy towards deepening and widening of integration efforts. Yet, discontinuity is evident both geographically – in Visegrad’s conservative depreciation of liberal values, as well as in the efforts invested in achieving coherence in specific sectoral aspiration, such as the ecological sustainability, which stands at the forefront of the externalization of EU’s domestic regulations.
Changing constellations around Eastern Europe
While the EU works well as a block internationally – as can be seen from its common positions in COP21 or its commitment towards supporting inter-regional socialization with Asia and Africa, vertical integration is all too often less evident, esp. in the case of the newly acceded member states – the so-called EU-13. Although seen as a block from the perspective of EU-6, or potential partner to EU-15, they are trying to balance the external pressure from Russia and China’s loan-based promises within its 16+1 format for cooperation. With EU’s funding potentially turning into an investment-driven mechanism, now Eastern Europe stands at a critical junction of competing possibilities that requires bold action.
Politically speaking, its accelerated integration into EU’s policies is by all means necessary. EU-13’s full inclusion into the monetary union is now one of the political priorities of Juncker, as it can strengthen banking and capital markets’ governance, and the overall strength of the Euro as an international, hence also reserve currency. Exponential demographic tendencies, such as those in India and Africa which are expected to reach 1.7 and 2.5 billion inhabitants also points out the necessity for forging better-protected external borders.
South East Europe: dirty and corrupt
To external viewers, Bulgaria remains a less understood periphery, whose Europeanization is often led by elites concerned much more with centralizing the distribution of European funds, rather than transforming their accountability to the citizenry into a tool for democratic legitimacy. Even if present, citizens’ dialogues are organized by the European institutions and perceived by citizens as the only corrective instrument to domestic irregularities. Leaving aside the fact that parliamentarians are paid slightly above 2500 Euro, when the middle salary outside the capital is ten times less, ideological struggles and the safeguarding of private interests inhibit the implementation of EU regulations, for example when it comes to pollution. Many requirements are also circumvented – such as the one for recycling waste, which is instead collected at large and separated inside a processing factory, thus losing on efficiency, as well as potential for establishing disruptive eco-innovative businesses that use secondary materials. Many of these problems can be achieved for example by improving the communication of EU’s environmental policy.
Governance structures in Bulgaria manage to maintain a sense of injustice that has been recently exacerbated by the loss of near two billion Euros of taxpayers’ money that saved a money-laundering machine close to a parliamentarian. Justice reform is high on the agenda, however, on the local level it is hindered by the fact that agricultural land, construction of large-scale infrastructure and housing, the tourism sector, extractive industries and waste are concentrated in the hands of few individuals with strong connections in the local judiciary. Thus, oftentimes people have to resort to illicit forms of protection by private security or mob. As this has turned into practice, debt collection by private companies has borrowed practices that threaten the inviolability of personal freedoms and private property.
The intrusion of politics into the governance machinery has resulted in massive firing of experts from ministries, thus in effect nullifying efforts for continuous Europeanization of the bureaucracy. Had it not been for the practice of training bureaucrats on EU affairs before the Council of EU presidency, the expertise, hence the ability of the ministries to implement EU norms and transpose EU’s agenda on the local level would have been significantly reduced. A constant criticism towards the preparation has therefore been that millions have been invested in the rejuvenation of the National Palace of Culture, while stipend for a PhD researcher is below the minimum salary threshold. The popular explanation is that embezzlement from grand scale procurement contracts for the erection of concrete infrastructure is much easier than from investment in research and innovation. The same applies to the experimental Sofia Tech Park, which has eaten millions of Euros spend on concrete, but is insufficiently and inadequately staffed. Bearing in mind that one of the priorities of the Bulgarian presidency of the Council of the EU is competitiveness, one could rather focus on creating regional development and applied research agencies that can capitalize on patents through venture.
While Bulgaria has successfully managed to draw public attention towards the Western Balkans, its foreign policy machinery remains less understood for the wider citizenry. Factors that contribute to this effect is the complete disenchantment with policy making and its externalities, which are hidden behind political scandals. Filtration of any attempt to understand how decisions are made, or how procedures work beyond the multiple and oftentimes burdensome and expensive requirements is omnipresent. As the Diplomatic Institute of the MFA is understaffed, foreign policy is often made at the level of state and military intelligence, which exists in complete secrecy from the public. In general, the sense of secrecy outweighs accountability to the citizens, which provide the mandate, hence creating a form of emancipated and alienated decision-making. Although the rejuvenation of the capacity is high on the agenda, the problem lies in the predefined years-long path of service that precedes any shadowing or secondment that can effectuate better participation in European and international structures. Additionally, the selection only of long serving diplomats impedes Europeanization per se and staves off the retrieval of experts educated abroad. In general, ministries remain one of the least attractive employers, which is high contrast with, for example, the German Society for Development Cooperation, which is ranked among top 10 preferred employers.
Besides inaccessibility and secrecy, a big problem remains the fact that innovative governance practices, such as involving youth in decision-making or diplomacy already from their lawful age, or externalizing domestic policies as foreign policy priorities, such as the case of e-Governance in Estonia, is rather not the case in Bulgaria. Foreign policy is still perceived only as on the ceremonial and not the inclusive and innovative side, thus impeding the emergence of economic, scientific, development diplomacy. Instead of being technocrats, ministers and top bureaucrats often enter the ministries by means of political mandates. The flexibility of electronic correspondence or electronic conduction of interviews is also out of question, even if the Bulgaria hold the portfolio of e-Governance in the European Union. Although relationships with the rest of the world exist, the foreign policy is constrained only to the Balkans, with the Eastern partnership and Black Sea region losing importance. This is especially evident in international, multilateral and interregional formats, which oftentimes deal with a blend of domestic expertise and diplomacy.
The 5th African Union – European Union Summit
The lack of transparency in who, how and why represents Bulgaria in multilateral formats such as the currently ongoing UNFCCC’s COP23 in Bonn and the 5th African Union – European Union Summit in Abidjan that will take place 29-30th of November 2017 speaks of the lack of Europeanization of institutional practices, as well as of the lack of strategic vision. Although COP and ASEM meetings take place each year, the AU-EU (formerly Africa-EU due to the exclusion of Morocco) meeting is convened once in three years and is instrumental in discussing questions relating not only to development cooperation, but also sectoral collaboration in education, business and investments, trade, culture and intellectual property, etc. The lack of interest in Africa that transliterates into a possibility of non-representation, as the prime minister will be in Saudi Arabia and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is preoccupied with the preparations for the Council of EU Presidency.
Importance of the Council of EU Presidency
While it is still possible that the President takes instead this role, the meeting will thus turn into a ceremonial rather than practical representation. Bearing in mind the exponential demographic tendencies in Africa and Bulgaria’s slightly intolerant society, the non-representation would be in contradiction with the European priorities of being at the forefront of humanism and attraction of international technical expertise. Additionally, as the migration dossier will remain on the table during the Bulgarian Council of EU presidency, ministers or bureaucrats might find themselves unprepared to chair meetings related to jobs, skills, growth, trade and development cooperation, which are inherently connected with migration governance.
The of lack of inclusivity and the opaqueness of decision-making only remind that the Bulgarian political leadership during the Presidency of the Council of the EU will be an extension of the very same narrow circles of people that were close to the socialist leadership. However, although their Europeanization is more or less an ongoing process, the same cannot be said for bureaucratic processes, foreign policy and domestic priorities, which hover in a loose, politicized vacuum that is largely detached from European practices.