An exclusive interview by Krassen Nikolov
Svetoslav Malinov is a member of the Democrats for Strong Bulgaria and part of the EPP Group in the European Parliament. He is one of the likely leaders of the center-right coalition “Democratic Bulgaria” in the upcoming European elections. In an exclusive interview, he talks about the fight against fake news, the Orban dividing line in the EPP, the lack of trust among the center-right parties in Bulgaria and the challenges facing the new European Parliament.
What will be the most important European topics for Bulgaria in the agenda of the next European Parliament?
The next European Parliament will work on legislation that is related to the crises we have experienced lately. There will be active work in the financial sphere – banking supervision, the banking union and the euro area. Bulgarians are not that familiar with these topics. I hope those will become clearer to the publi. After applying for eurozone membership, many Bulgarians are wondering what will happen when we will adopt the euro. The European Parliament will work to create a much stronger banking union with a stricter attitude towards the countries that violate the financial rules, above all, regarding excessive deficit. That’s good for Bulgaria. Ultimately, the Greek case has led to major improvements at European level. All pledge that this will not happen again. The new migration policy is also important. A consensus on the issue is finally expected so that the biggest shortcomings of the regulations in this area could be corrected. A clear mechanism for supporting countries most affected by the migration crisis is needed. It should be clear what the EU can do and how. I hope that after Brexit there will be much more funding for common policies. The Bulgarian priority is for faster integration of the Western Balkans or let’s say it straight away – for the fast integration of North Macedonia. My personal priorities are in the sphere of culture and education.
Is the European Commission expected to weaken the pressure on Bulgaria for judicial reform like the Bulgarian authorities insist? What are your differences with GERB?
Judicial reform is what divided us with GERB. We explained to our voters that because of the judicial reform we were making a coalition with GERB while we were part of the Reformist Bloc. We, Democrats for Strong Bulgaria, entered the ruling coalition so that we could reform the judiciary. We saw that it did not happen and we left government. Up to now Bulgaria has not yet completed the process of full EU membership. The country is under shameful monitoring, it is not a member of the Schengen area. There is a paradox. The European Commission is surprised to find that 12 years after Bulgaria’s accession to the EU, the country is still unable to carry out reforms. It was originally thought that the reforms would take place for 2-3 years and that is why Bulgaria was accepted in the EU. No one suspected that 12 years later we would continue to be under monitoring. This monitoring mechanism has failed, because the Commission is unable to force a member state to carry out the reforms needed. Now this mechanism is humiliating for Bulgaria, but it is humiliating for the European Commission as well. Every report reminds us that the Commission cannot do anything and the Bulgarians have become accustomed to this. People do not realize any longer that the very existence of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism is the biggest shame no matter what is written in the reports. I think that this mechanism should be replaced with a stricter one. The monitoring of the functioning of the rule of law should be much more efficient. The new mechanism should force Bulgaria under the threat of sanctions to do specific things on specific occasions. Only then there will be an effect. This is about to happen. And I will be among the first to defend it, given the situation in Bulgaria, Romania, Poland and Hungary.
Does Brussels notice the drop of foreign investments in the country resulting from the government’s policies?
Brussels does not care about foreign investors. Those who care are people who deal with bussiness. They look at the data and see some drop in investment. Bulgaria’s reputation has not improved in recent years. We are stable but at a very low level. We do not have problems like Greece, but we are the country with the lowest incomes. At the same time, the authorities in Bulgaria brag about stability. But only the best have the right to speak about stability. When you’re on the top, you can say – I’m stable and that’s good. It is political ignorance to say you are stable when you are at the bottom. When you are at the bottom, you should talk about reforms. We are definitely at the bottom. Perhaps Switzerland has the right to speak about stability, but in Bulgaria it should be absolutely forbidden.
Is there a problem in the EPP and the EU with Borisov’s soft policy towards Russia and Turkey?
As long as this does not affect negatively the EU policy, no one cares. It’s Bulgarians, not the EU, who pay the price of Borissov’s soft policy. His position on Russia will be noticed if he starts talking against the sanctions. Now Borissov speaks to everyone about everything. He tries to say nice things to all. He will say that there should be sanctions to those who think there should be sanctions. He will say the contrary to the others. Finally he votes like everybody else. The problem is that Bulgarian citizens suffer because of the big Russian projects – money is not spent on important national policies. Another issue is more important at European level. Following the annexation of Crimea, there has been a deep change in the EU’s attitude towards Russia. Before Crimea there were Russia fans and people who had hoped for some sort of cooperation with Russia. After the annexation, which is the first annexation of territory from the sovereign state after the Second World War in our region, there are no two ways about it – Russia is an aggressor. It is seen as a direct opponent of the EU. No more hesitation on these issues. Things are clear for one generation ahead.
Is the European People’s Party divided on Orban?
This is a very heavy expression. Some are likely to vote against the exclusion of Orban from tactical considerations, but he is too small to cause major problems in EPP. The European Parliament and the EPP voted against Orban when they triggered the sanction procedure against Hungary. He got the support by extreme nationalists who are doing everything to weaken the EU. In this case, they have decided that support for Orban helps to weaken the union. With such allies, you can not be in the EPP. Even if Orban is not expelled, he will be left without formal allies. Manfred Weber who is the candidate for the next President of the European Commission will not defend him and will not appear with him in public. When a politician reaches this level, it does not matter whether he is expelled or not. He is no longer a part of the community.
Can the corruption in the procedure of granting Bulgarian citizenship become a European issue?
This issue does not have such potential. That’s sad. There must be many horrifying cases. Our problems with corruption fall over us only. From time to time, problems with the Bulgarian passports that affect Western citizens reach the embassies. It temporarily pushes up the topic, but it’s us who need to fight against corruption on our territory. It is a well-known fact that Bulgarians perceive their country as very corrupt. This perception of corruption cannot be ignored.
Will the expected increase of nationalists and populists in the EP harm Bulgaria’s pro-integration objectives for the Western Balkans?
Nationalists and populists in the next European Parliament will not be more in number. These parties are in retreat because of Brexit. They are very vocal, but they will not be able to do anything to stop the development of Europe. With the departure of Britain, the nationalists will lose steam. The anti-European forces in the next European Parliament will be no more than 20%. At the moment, anyone who claims that it is good for their country to leave the EU is doomed to failure. Even if the UK would remain in the EU, this huge pro-European majority that we have now will be kept. I share the tactics of frightening Europeans that there will be a surge of nationalists. The reason is that some people are so passive at the moment that only fear can make them vote. And every vote is important in the end.
How do the media environment and the fake news impact on the European elections campaign?
Several months ago a very important EP text was passed, which names Russia as the main source of fake news and propaganda against the EU. The Union has admitted that such propaganda exists and that it is financed by Russia. “Russia Today” TV was named as one of these sources of propaganda. This television is very powerful, it broadcasts in many European capitals and in many languages. Definitely fake news will be fought with new regulations that will also affect terrorist propaganda. The EU’s goal is to make technological giants responsible for the misuse in the new media. Problems could only be solved by proactive policy of the technology corporations. States can not compete with them when it comes to prevention and algorithms. It is ridiculous to claim that global cyber security can be provided by government services. We will have to rely on the innovators in this field. European regulations should force them to be active, otherwise they will be sanctioned. This is a simple system. We can not compete with them, but we have to force them. Here is an example. The New Zealand terrorist recorded his massacre. He uploaded the video. Who should remove it and not allow such a thing to be published? The British Government? The Bulgarian Government? This video is extremely obscene and should not be made public but who should take responsibility? Who can identify this video and remove it, who will design the mechanism? Perhaps not the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.