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Bulgarian socialists to vote against Von der Leyen

Von der Leyen: Will she have her portrait in this gallery? [Europe by satellite]

By Georgi Gotev reporting from Strasbourg

At least four of the five Bulgarian MEPs from the S&D group will vote on Tuesday (16 July) against Ursula von der Leyen to become Commission President, as proposed by EU heads of state and government, this website has learned.

The main reason is very simple: in her letter, sent to the S&D group this morning, Von der Leyen takes position that the EU as a whole should join the Istanbul Convention (the Council of Europe’s Convention on the Prevention and Combatting Domestic Violence).

The issue is that the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) takes the view that the Istanbul Convention is a Trojan horse for spreading “gender ideology” which allegedly undermines the traditional family, consisting of a man and a woman, introduces a “third sex” and incites children to adopt gay behavior.

Other national delegations in the centre-left group are also likely to vote against Von der Leyen, but for a variety of other reasons. In Bulgaria however, the Istanbul Convention appears to be a red line. The issue was featuring very high in the debate for the European elections, and BSP candidates committed to oppose any attempts to impose it through a back door.

Such a backdoor could be an attempt of the EU to ratify the Council of Europe document collectively – exactly what Von der Leyen appears to suggest.

The Bulgarian Constitutional Court has rejected the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, and other major political forces, including Boyko Borissov’s GERB party, are against it. However, it’s the socialists who mostly used the topic to mobilise their electorate.

Sergei Stanishev, the leader of the Party of European Socialists (PES), paid a heavy price for breaking ranks with BSP over the issue. Stanishev, who is a supporter of the Istanbul Convention, was close to not being included in the BSP election list.

Ultimately he was included as N.4 in the BSP list, but the other MEPs voted him down as their delegation leader, choosing instead Petar Vitanov, a newcomer to the European Parliament.

Including a reference to the Istanbul Convention in Von der Leyen’s letter appears to be a risky idea. Other countries, including Slovakia and Hungary, have big reservations against this document, across party lines. Thus, whoever included the reference in Von der Leyen’s letter, may have added to her predicament. Rumours say that Frans Timmermans helped draft the letter.  

After the publication of this article BSP MEP Ivo Hristov wrote in Facebook:

“I will vote against Von der Leyen’s candidacy for President of the European Commission.
The candidacy was put forward by the European Council in violation of the lead candidates principle, which gave the EP a secondary role. I believe that the President of the European Commission should be elected by the representatives of the European peoples and not by a narrow circle of government leaders and lobbyists, whose agreements narrow the free choice of European deputies.

In her letter to the Socialists and Democrats, Ms Von der Leyen states her intention for the EU to adopt and enforce the Istanbul Convention. The intention is in contradiction with the Decision 13/2018 of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Bulgaria. The attempt to re-impose a controversial and inconsistent act on our constitution is unacceptable.

Finally, despite the abundance of good ideas borrowed from the Socialist program, Von der Leyen’s letter does not contain a strategy to crack down on tax havens where the wealth of European peoples is siphoned in the form of tax evasion.

After the publication of this article, on Wednesday it was confirmed that all Bulgarian socialists MEPs, including Stanishev, have voted against van der Leyen. On the EPP side only Radan Kanev, who is from a small party critical to Boyko Borissov’s GERB, voted against.

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