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EU campaign in Bulgaria: Let’s talk Europe to avoid talking about scandals

Combo picture of Boyko Borissov and Kornelia Ninova [Dnevnik]

By Krassen Nikolov

The corruption scandal with the apartments bought by high level officials at suspiciously low prices might have a positive effect on the campaign for the European elections in Bulgaria. “Bulgaria should stop talking about apartments and start a conversation about Europe. There are only 50 days before the elections,” said Georgi Markov, a GERB MP, on the national television BNT on Saturday (6 April).

According to opinion polls, GERB suffers heavy losses because of the apartment scandal. So the easiest way out of this situation is turning the party to European issues. Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s party was ready to run the campaign, focusing on domestic issues – raising income, investing and building roads. The same approach was also chosen by the main opposition party – BSP.

The corruption scandal is dominating the agenda of media and society. So the opportunity for focusing on other domestic issues is blocked. Key GERB figured resigned because of the scandal – the chairman of the parliamentary group Tzvetan Tzvetanov and the minister of justice Tsetska Tsacheva. The chairman of the anti-corruption agency Plamen Georgiev took an open-ended leave. He is not a GERB member, but a protégé of this political force.

So talking about Europe could be a salvation for Borissov’s party. But turning the focus of the campaign will be a difficult task. A week ago, GERB presented its candidates for MEPs. The election list is led by the EU’s Digital Commissioner Mariya Gabriel. She was trying to talk about her EU priorities. But she could hardly attract media attention since GERB was forced to defend for the strangely cheap luxury apartments.

87% of Bulgarians do not think that Tzvetanov’s resignation will end the apartment scandals, shows an opinion poll of Gallup International, published on Friday. Another conclusion of this survey is that GERB needs to change completely the focus of its campaign.

Mariya Gabriel called the main Bulgarian candidates for MEPs to identify the topics that are important for the country and should be defended in the next European Parliament. “This may be the accession of Bulgaria in Schengen, the dual food standards, the Western Balkans, the Danube strategy, the digital skills and education, cyber security … The list is open, let’s all fill it out so that we would prevent others from taking decisions instead of us, to send a strong signal at both national and European level, “Gabriel said.

One of the themes that could change the campaign is migration. Bulgarians are interested in this issue. The Minister of Interior Mladen Marinov warned days ago that the migratory flow across the border with Greece had increased six fold. So far, Borissov has declared that there are no migrant flows across the country. The level is “zero”, claims the Prime Minister.

BSP does not exploit the corruption scandal in GERB fully. The party has its own problems because of the conflict between the BSP leader Kornelia Ninova and the chairman of the Party of European Socialists Sergey Stanishev. Ninova does everything possible so that Stanishev would stay out of the European Parliament. In return, the leader of PES accuses Ninova that she is splitting BSP. The final decision on the BSP list will be taken on 14 April. It was already decided that the former journalist and the former Stanishev’s partner Elena Yoncheva would lead the BSP election list. Yoncheva has been investigated for money laundering from the bankrupt Corporate Commercial Bank. This restrains BSP from attacking GERB more actively.

That is why turning the focus of the campaign on European topics is also a salvation for BSP. A week ago, Ninova announced that BSP was the only Bulgarian party that had a program for the European elections.

The liberal coalition Democratic Bulgaria also has its scandals. MEP Svetoslav Malinov resigned as leader of the coalition’s list. He was late for the vote on the adoption of the Mobility Package in the Parliament’s agenda. Malinov was one of the three Bulgarian MEPs who did not attend the session and this turned out to be decisive. The package was put on the agenda with two vote difference. Then it was accepted.

So the list of Democratic Bulgaria will be led Radan Kanev – a lawyer and the former leader of Democrats for Strong Bulgaria. Kanev’s position is pro-European. He focuses on the reform of the judicial system and is also a convinced supporter of the Romanian model in the fight against high-level corruption, symbolised by the former anti-corruption Laura Kövesi.

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