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Fact check: Will Marine Le Pen help Bulgaria become richer?

Marine Le Pen [C] and Vesselin Mareshki [R] during her Sofia visit on 2 May 2019.

By Georgi Gotev and Aline Robert

Vesselin Mareshki, the Bulgarian partner of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, said that the present “bureaucratic” EU was keeping down Bulgaria as a second-class member state, while Marine Le Pen and her allies, when they would take power, would help the country become richer.

Vesselin Mareshki, leader of the populist party Volya, has been chosen by Le Pen as her partner in Bulgaria, a country she visited last week for a second time this year. Mareshki owns a chain of filling stations and of pharmacies, and has been able to sell fuel and medicines below the market price. Riding on an anti-monopoly ticket, he commands since the 2017 parliamentary elections a 11-strong group in the National Assembly. Although Mareshki is officially in opposition,  he supports the government of Boyko Borissov.

Marine Le Pen visited Bulgaria for the official opening of the European elections campaign of Volya. Also present were Gerolf Annemans,  from the Belgian separatist party Vlaams Belang, in his capacity of leader of the Europe of Nations and Freedom movement, Ludovit Goga, president of the Rodina party of Slovakia and Radim Fiala, co-president of the party Freedom and Direct Democracy of the Czech Republic.

Mareshki argues that there cannot be a strong and united Europe, while some of the European countries like Bulgaria are lagging behind. Such an union can be built by full-fledged partner, not in a “master-and-servant” relationship, he insists.

“Marine Le Pen, Salvini and Strache know that without a strong Bulgaria, they cannot build a strong EU. And they have the will to help Bulgaria to catch up with the big European countries. While Merkel, Macron and Juncker, they want us to remain weak”. Mareshki said, speaking on 3 May in the program “Oste ot denya” on national television BNT.

The anchor didn’t react to these words, which is not unusual under the rather low standards of Bulgarian journalism.

The obvious truth is that the EU could be criticized for its bureaucracy, but it has nevertheless put in place a cohesion policy from which new members like Bulgaria benefit -a lot. 

Conversely, the far-right parties of the older EU members are against such re-distribution of wealth. Moreover, the far-right in no way advocates a “strong” Europe. And National Rally party can’t have words hard enough against the freedom of movement inside the EU. They especially criticize loose borders and the idea of a closer union with Bulgaria and Romania, that would allow the two countries joining Schengen or the Euro is a no-go for them.

Strange bedfellows

In fact, Mareshki and Le Pen are strange bedfellows and the messages of each one of them to their respective electorates could not differ more. Le Pen would never tell the French audience that she wants the EU to help countries like Bulgaria become economically stronger. Her only interest in spending time with Mareshki is to have sufficient allies to be able to create a political group in the next European Parliament.

She is likely to be disappointed, because opinion polls give Mareshki 2%, which is quite far from the 5.9% threshold for the European elections.

Le Pen doesn’t like EU cohesion. A recent research of the Vienna University of Economics and Business has shown that her electorate comes from areas where the EU cohesion policy has been less present or successful.

The next gathering where Le Pen and Mareshki will rub shoulders again will be in Italy in mid-May, at the invitation of the leader of Lega, Matteo Salvini. Another weird alliance with people defending opposite positions especially regarding migrations, with Italy asking France to welcome more refugees for example.

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