Emil Radev is a member of the European Parliament and eighth in the list of GERB for the forthcoming European elections. In an interview with this website, he answers questions about his achievements as an MEP, the scandals in Bulgaria and the problems of the media environment in the country.
He spoke to Krassen Nikolov.
How would you describe what has GERB managed to achieve in the current European Parliament?
I know that for many people the work in the European institutions is something abstract. But the decisions taken by these institutions have a direct impact on the life of the people. The legislative initiatives of the GERB/EPP MEPs are examples of this. As for my causes in the European Parliament, I would first of all highlight the new European programme tackling the double standards for foods that me and my colleague Novakov achieved. A €1.3-million budget was granted for this programme. The problem has finally been recognized by the European Commission. But I am still fighting for a pan-European controlling institution because I believe that this the only way to counteract adequately the unfair trading practices of international companies.
We have made it easier for millions of European citizens by dropping the requirement for apostille and legalization of some official documents on civil status. As an MEP I have also made a breakthrough on a topic that I have spent a lot of effort over the years – putting an end to the possibility to have “perpetual debtors”. I did not succeed this as a member of the national parliament. But as an MEP I drafted a text in a European directive that the forgiveness of debt laws would also apply to individuals – the consumers.
We have also made progress towards speeding up Bulgaria’s Schengen accession. We have succeeded in in Bulgaria’s joining the new border and coastguard service. With a number of legislative initiatives, I have worked for more effective justice, new measures against organized crime and money laundering. I defended the interests of Bulgarian children after reports of forced adoptions abroad. I continue to work on other important issues related to relieving business procedures, including trade disputes. The establishment of zoo police in Bulgaria was my initiative. I remain engaged with the problems of animal welfare.
What is the stake for Europe and Bulgaria in these elections?
Anti-European tendencies in Europe are becoming stronger and stronger, but populism leads to a dead end. What’s happening in the UK is a striking example that populists do not offer solutions but only cause problems. The forthcoming elections will be an important test of what kind of Europe 500 million citizens want to live in. The stake is the European perspective and everything that comes from it.
Bulgarian citizens have not forgotten the frozen EU funds during the rule of the tripartite coalition (between BSP, DPS and NDSV). Unlike that period, Bulgaria is now respected by its European partners. Prime Minister Borissov’s government has been repeatedly praised for the extremely successful first Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council. The amount of money that our country receives through the funds is constantly increasing. We expect euro funds for Bulgaria to increase by BGN 4 billion (€2 billion) in the next programming period. This important support for the development of the regions in our country must continue to be a wide open rather than a locked door. That’s why I believe people will appreciate the real action and will support us on 26 May.
The apartment scandal caused serious trouble GERB just before the elections. Where is this scandal rooted, and was the GERB’s reaction the right one?
This is precisely the goal of our opponents – there should be no debate on European issues, the focus of public attention not on the policies for a stronger and more secure Bulgaria in united Europe, but on the mud-slinging war they are leading. The energy they use for creating scandals can be used for something more constructive. I’m sure people are asking where the journalistic investigations of the socialist key figures were, while Sergei Stanishev’s government was in power. Unlike other parties, GERB keeps its pure image not with political protections, but with the resignation of the people whose name is involved in a scandal. Everybody can make their own conclusions.
Bulgaria has been criticized, including in EC reports, for the media freedom. Do you agree with the external evaluations? What could an MEP do to improve the image of his country?
We often interpret external assessments and analyzes of the situation in Bulgaria. According to a study on the Media Environment in Bulgaria by the Commission for Protection of Competition, the main concerns about the media are related to the concentration of advertisers in the media industry, the existence of only two people-metric systems and the connection of television, radio and newspapers, which in is a global phenomenon. At the same time, there are a lot of participants on the media market in Bulgaria – from small regional media to large media groups, which is definitely good for the pluralism of the media and the news coverage. As an MEP I worked actively on the subject of cyber security. Fighting fake news is a part of it. In any case, regulations and directives are not sufficient. Social sensitivity is needed too.
Has Bulgaria achieved sufficient results in fighting corruption and should the monitoring of the European Commission be lifted?
I have stated that the monitoring of the European Commission should be lifted. It is ineffective because the criteria have been constantly changing over the years. There were some contradictory recommendations. And it was used mainly for political purposes – both for domestic political attacks in Bulgaria and foreign policy that led to not accepting us in the Schengen area, although eight years ago we have met all the requirements. As an MEP I insisted and will continue to fight for the creation of a pan-European mechanism for democracy and the rule of law equally applicable to all member states. It should have criteria and methods of measurement of the achieved goals. In addition to this mechanism there should be a pan-European anti-corruption strategy. Corruption is not a problem only in Bulgaria. Measures are needed in all countries.
The European Commission has not yet come with legislative proposal for a pan-European mechanism, despite the position we have taken in the European Parliament. However, there is a proposal for the protection of the EU budget in case of systematic violation of the rule of law. It got huge support in Parliament. I was rapporteur on it from the EPP in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. The position of the European Parliament is that if a member state systematically violates the rule of law, then its EU funds must be frozen or stopped, but its obligations to the beneficiaries continue to be valid i.e. European citizens should not be penalized for the actions of their governments.
Is the campaign for the European elections in Bulgaria European? Or do parties see it as a vote of no confidence in the government? Is it GERB’s fault if the campaign is not European enough?
In fact, GERB and our partners are the only ones that lead a truly European campaign. The rest are more busy producing scandals, instead of offering solutions for wider European horizons to our country. Both me and my colleagues are going around the country, we meet people constantly and discuss with them all the benefits of the EU and the battles we lead to protect the interests of Bulgaria. This is not just about the money we will get from Europe, which is expected to reach a total of BGN 18 billion in the next programming period. During our meetings with people, we are talking about European solidarity, the protection of our borders, the administrative assistance that Bulgaria receives, all the advantages that EU membership provides to us – free traveling, free movement of goods and services, the opportunities for transport, economic, energy connectivity, investment and development of innovation.