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How Bulgaria succeeded to miss two EU top jobs

Boyko Borissov on 2 July 2019 [Georgi Gotev]

By Georgi Gotev

Bulgaria may be a small country and the poorest in the EU, but two Bulgarian names have been widely mentioned as candidates for EU top jobs at the marathon summit that ended on Tuesday (2 July). Kristalina Georgieva was touted as possible Commission President, or alternatively Council President or High Representative – Commission Vice President for Foreign Affairs. And Sergei Stanishev was part of the leaders’ package, as President of the European Parliament for two and a half years.

For different reasons, none of them got the job. In the case of Georgieva, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov cleary didn’t want to help. He was pushing for Mariya Nedeltcheva (as he calls her) instead, although everybody sees that Mariya Gabriel is too junior for a top job.

Borissov’s argument was that he didn’t want to lose a “real” Commissioner portfolio for the Mogherini job, which he said would be troublesome for Bulgaria. Borissov has said he wants Nedeltcheva-Gabriel to be in charge of digital again, as “the most modern” portfolio. Foreign affairs for him means trouble, because of the expected setback with the Western Balkans EU accession process. He said he didn’t want a Bulgarian to take the blame for that.

The real reason may be different. Borissov doesn’t like Georgieva, because as Commission Vice President, she was bossy to him, although he nominated her. Conversely, Nedeltcheva always answers her phone when he calls.

But Borissov shouldn’t be blamed for having killed Georgieva’s chances. She was the candidate of the Visegrad Group and Italy, which is not exactly the mainstream in EU politics, to say the least.

Conversely, Borissov was very much in favour of Stanishev, despite the fact that he is from the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the arch-enemy of his GERB party. He pretended to be patriotic and help a compatriot get a top job. But in reality he was trying to cause a major blow for the BSP leader Kornelia Ninova, who is at war with Stanishev on ideological grounds.

What Borissov could not control is how the European Parliament S&D group would react. MEPs decided to ignore the summit decisions and nominated Italian MEP David-Maria Sassoli as their candidate for Parliament President. Despite the friendly relations between Stanishev and Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez, it was the Spanish leader of S&D Iratxe Garcia Perez who nominated Sassoli.

This is how the story ends. But why Bulgaria got so much attention? First, an unwritten rule requires Eastern Europe to have a representative in the top EU institutions. As Visegrad are ineligible, a Bulgarian candidate comes handy. Second, Borissov is by now among the most experienced EU leaders and is making attempts to push his pawns on the EU chessboard. In the case of Stanishev, he was trying to solve domestic policy issues in the EU framework. Happily enough, he didn’t succeed.

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