MEP Nikolay Barekov (ECR Bulgaria) hosted in the European Parliament yesterday (28 February) with 120 guests from Bulgaria an event on “fake news” which turned into Brussels-bashing.
Barekov is a former TV journalist who in 2014 founded the Bulgaria without Censorship political party, which took part in the 2014 elections in coalition with the nationalist VMRO and jointly obtained two seats. He and VMRO politician Angel Dzambazki are affiliated to the Eurosceptic ECR, when the UK Tories and the populist PiS party of Jaroslaw Kacynski sit.
In his election campaign Barekov obviously used large financial resource. Barekov is the only politician whose name is mentioned in the prosecutions charges against the failed Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB of KTB, also known as Corpbank).
The participants to Barekov’s conference, labelled ”Corruption and the genesis of fake news in Bulgaria”, were Bulgarians from academia circles, including journalists from the media empire of Delyan Peevski. The latter is an MP from the Movement of Rights and Freedoms and a businessman who owns several media. Peevski’s media grab has materialised with the active help of the state in the Borissov years.
Not a single Bulgarian MEP from other groups appeared at the event. This is not the first event in which Peevski’s media seek to whitewash their image of factory of fake news. In parallel, they attack the Union of Publishers in Bulgaria, which represents a small number of press outlets outside Peevski’s quasi-press monopoly.
The messages from the conference suggest that in view of the next European elections, Barekov is positioning itself as an anti-EU politician. He said, among other things, that today’s problems of Bulgaria stemming from the EU membership are “not smaller or easier to be solved that the problems inherited by the Soviet era”. He also slammed those who oppose what he called the building of a second ski-lift in Bankso (environmentalists say the ski lift is a fig leaf for huge business development resulting in destroying the national park).
Barekov gave the floor to his guests, MEP Geoffrey Van Orden (ECR, UK), Hans-Olaf Henkel (ECR, Germany) and Ryszard Czarnecki (ECR, Poland), who was recently dismissed from the post of European Parliament Vice President for having compared a rival Polish MEP to a Nazi collaborator.
MEP Nikolay Barekov (ECR Bulgaria) hosted an event on Brussels bashing yesterday with 120 guests from Bulgaria, labeled as conference on fake news pic.twitter.com/WHNNFjC0MH
— Georgi Gotev (@GeorgiGotev) March 1, 2018
Van Orden, who was the European Parliament rapporteur at the time of Bulgaria’s preparation for EU accession, spoke mainly about Brexit and criticised the EU negotiators. He also repeated messages that the UK counts on Bulgaria’s Presidency of the Council of the EU to show better understanding for London in its divorce proceedings.
“The European Commission, which is leading the negotiations with the UK, is trying to make life as difficult as possible for us”, he said, adding that the Commission’s concern was that there should not be a successful example of a country leaving the Union.
“They want to make it very clear, there’s no escape once you’re in”, he said.
Van Orden said the biggest concern for the UK was not being able to control migration as member of the EU, and that in the Brexit vote the migration concern had an enormous role.
“The final straw was when the German Chancellor agreed to allow one million refugees to come to Germany, and the people in Britain thought, well, in five years’ time they will be in Britain. It happened in the lead up to the referendum, it couldn’t have been more dramatic”, he said.
Hans-Olaf Henkel, who introduced himself as one of the persons who started and financed the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the right wing to far-right political part founded in 2013, which he said was now “very successful”.
He spoke at length against the euro and what he called its “terrible effects” for the South of Europe and its “ridiculous effects” in Germany. Then he said that the mainstream parties in Germany, as in his words they could not deal with their arguments against the euro, decided to depict AfD as a “terrible right-wing racist party”.
These “fake news”, he said, had as an unexpected result for the AfD opponents that the support for this force grew.
Regarding Brexit, Henkel said that in his opinion Brexit had a colossal detrimental effect on the rest of Europe. He compared the exit of the huge UK economy to the 19 smallest and medium-sized EU countries leaving at the same time. He said that while in Britain there was a genuine discussion about the effects of Brexit in the UK, “nobody” in the rest of the EU was discussing the effects on the EU27 or in any of these member states.
Henkel further slammed the EU Brexit negotiators for their “arrogance” and their attitude that “this is a British problem”. He appealed on Brussels to “make a new offer to Britain”, so that it would stay in the EU, an offer which in his words should have been made to David Cameron ahead of the referendum. He said that it made sense that the UK would have the freedom to decide its own immigration and also slammed Merkel for “inviting immigrants”.
Regarding fake news, Henkel said that “Putin is aiming at making sure that Brexit happens”. But he slammed Facebook and Google from allowing “students” to decide what is fake news, offensive content or freedom of expression.
I asked Geoffrey Van Orden if he agreed that fake news contributed to Brexit. The Brexit camp campaign used a red bus with messages which today are generally accepted as false. Moreover, the tabloid press of Rupert Murdoch went ballistic against the EU. He answered:
“I don’t know, I don’t think fake news was responsible for Brexit. Brexit has been bubbling away for a long time. UK never sat entirely happily in the EU.”
Van Orden briefly addressed the problems of the Pirin national park, saying that the “Greens like to create political theatre”.
Representatives of Peevski’s media present at Barekov’s event also attended a “Colloquium on fake news and online discrimination” on Tuesday, organised by Bulgarian Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, who also responsible for EU media policy and leads a high-level group on fake news.