site.btaMedia Review: March 24
All print dailies, apart from Telegraph, have put on their front page a headline concerning the ongoing inspection of the Commission on Protection of Competition (CCP) to establish possible violations of the Protection of Competition Act, in the form of prohibited agreements and decisions by associations of enterprises. The dailies write that the CCP is looking for cartels among franchise supermarkets and highlights egg and dairy prices as the most problematic at the moment. Following the same topic, Telegraph has put on its front page a headline regarding the quality of dairy products, according to research commissioned by the daily itself. All online media platforms have also covered the topic.
Mediapool reports that the Commission for Protection of Competition (CPC) has launched inspections for a potential cartel between retail chains, their associations and industry associations of dairy and egg producers. Three proceedings for prohibited agreements were initiated against the Modern Trade Association, which unites the leading hypermarkets on the Bulgarian market. Specifically against the retail chains - Billa Bulgaria, Lidl Bulgaria, Kaufland Bulgaria, Maxima Bulgaria (T Market), Promarket Ltd, Fantastico Group, and Metro Cash and Carry. The CPC pointed out that, according to an official report by the Ministry of Agriculture, food supplies to retail chains are segregated into six channels and "all of them have high mark-ups ranging from 48.8% to over 90%".
The most notable products are bread, oil, eggs, milk and dairy products. There is a high margin between producer and retailer prices for eggs, butter, cheese and yellow kashkaval cheese. With an average wholesale price for milk of BGN 1.03 per litre, it reaches up to BGN 4 per litre in some stores. A 400-gramme pack of yellow kashkaval cheese has a delivery price of BGN 8.04 but is sold to the final consumer for BGN 15.99. Cow's cheese in a 400-gramme pack is delivered at BGN 5.64 but supermarkets sell it at BGN 10.79 or with a 91% mark-up. Mediapool's article points out that one type of yellow cheese can be sold for as much as BGN 22/kg to final consumer, while the same product sells at EUR 6.65 or about BGN 13/kg in Germany.
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24 Chasa has on its front page a headline that CCP is checking how the price of eggs fluctuates from the producer to the supermarket. The daily writes that CCP has found large discrepancies between the price increase of the wholesale trade (77%) of dairy products and their retail trade (87%).
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Telegraph's quality of dairy products in Bulgarian supermarkets reveals that 70% of the most expensive yellow cheese is water. The experts have checked ten samples of cheese and have found only three to be according to Bulgarian quality standards.
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Trud writes that egg and dairy prices are artificially inflated and include the same graphics and statistics mentioned by Mediapool.
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24 Chasa writes that Bulgarian farmers "are stressed by the drastic water price hike - would buy their produce with the increased prices?" The increase of the irrigation water price provoked peaceful protests by fruit and vegetable growers around the country earlier in the week. The daily notes that caretaker Agriculture Minister Yavor Gechev is looking for aid mechanisms to mitigate the consequences for producers.
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Bulgarian fruits and vegetables will become exotic products because of the overall policy in agriculture. Mariana Miltenova from the National Union of Gardeners warned in an interview for the Bulgarian National Radio. "The cucumbers' price reaching BGN 7-8 was anticipated. In the past over 10 years we have been warning that the production of fruit and vegetables in Bulgaria is going down. The sector is being destroyed safely and quickly," she said. The single area payment system is the same for all crops. However, each of the individual crops has different production costs and different costs, and this has led to a complete imbalance of the sector and the refusal of fruit and vegetable producers to carry out their activities, Miltenova explained.
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On the front page of Duma, Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Korneliya Ninova urges the caretaker cabinet to immediately halt the import of eggs from Ukraine in order to protect Bulgarian producers and buyers. She is quoted speaking while touring the country and campaigning. According to her, "2.5 million eggs are smuggled to Bulgaria from Ukraine", and the information is "leaked" by the Union of Poultry Farmers in Bulgaria. The Union says that the eggs were imported a week ago but are not yet on the market. The article also quotes the Union's Chair Ivaylo Galabov, speaking for the Bulgarian National Radio, who expressed concern that the eggs would be branded as Bulgarian, "a common practice of smugglers".
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Another story in Capital is entitled "Budget and Tax Exercises" and looks into the government's plans in this department. The Finance Ministry plans to tax more corporate profits, but the proposal will hardly ever be put to the vote in Parliament. The idea that really seems to be getting support is for scrapping the preferential VAT rate that some sectors have enjoyed in the past couple of years. The expert debate on the condition of public finances was postponed again at a time when it was badly needed, the author says.
This weekly also has a story about Bulgaria's resolve to revise the energy chapter of its Recovery and Resilience Plan. It says that caretaker Energy Minister Rossen Hristov will ask for talks with the European Commission next week. The negotiating process could last for months and put to risk BGN 14 billion from the Recovery Plan and the Just Transition Fund. In the meantime, due to the dropping electricity prices, the coal-fired power plants are running at a 16% smaller capacity than they did last year.
Alexander Simov comments on recent developments with BSP's campaign to organize a referendum asking Bulgarians whether they approve of gender ideology "infiltrating" schools in Bulgaria.
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GERB-UDF leader Boyko Borissov is on the front page of Trud, commenting on Bulgaria's national debt.
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In its politics pages, Capital Weekly writes about Bulgarian Rise. The story says that in these elections, just like the previous ones, behind the lists of candidates of this party transpire a coalition of various business interests. In Plovdiv, the list of candidates is dominated by local business mogul and former ranking Socialist Georgi Gergov but in other places among the candidates are former cadre of GERB and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms.
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Telegraph has an article looking into parliamentary coalitions in Bulgaria over the past 30 years. The article features an interview with political scientist Tatyana Burudzhieva, who says that in order to effectively coalesce political formations should not consider each other enemies.
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Trud has an interview with journalist Nedyalko Nedyalkov, who is quoted in the headline, saying that the Petkov family want to "kill him over a video". Nedyalkov is referring to the family of former prime minister Kiril Petkov and a video revealing some unprofessional behaviour by Petkov towards a colleague of his. "The Petkov family waged a long personal war against me, imagining that I had a personal fixation on them. Or that someone is paying me to attack them, for example Boyko Borissov. Which, of course, is ridiculous, since Borisov is definitely avoiding any confrontation with them, probably because they will have to make a government together. And that to me is shocking, the absolute end of history and morality", Nedyalkov says.
Historian Naum Kaychev, lecturer at Sofia University and deputy co-chairman of the Joint Multidisciplinary Commission of Experts on Historical and Educational Issues between Bulgaria and North Macedonia, said on the morning show of the Bulgarian National Television (BNT) that there is an escalation in Skopje's attitude towards Bulgaria and that "undoubtedly, there is a deterioration of the environment for Bulgarians in North Macedonia." Kaychev was commenting on the deletion of the Ivan Mihailov Cultural Centre Association in Bitola from the Central Registry of the Republic of North Macedonia. The deletion came as a result of legislative amendments pertaining to associations and foundations, adopted unanimously by the legislature in Skopje, which ban retroactively the establishment of organizations, which with their name, agenda, goals or activities incite and call for aggression, nationality-, race- and religious-based hatred or other intolerance, genocide, extermination, incite, assist or approve fascism, Nazism, national socialism and the Third Reich.
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National Ombudsman Diana Kovacheva said on the morning show of the Bulgarian National Television that consumer complaints accounted for the largest share of all complaints to the Ombudsman in 2022. "They account for over 30% of all complaints, traditionally. Among them, complaints about the poor quality of water and its high price rank first. Next come problems with electricity and heat supply," she said. Consumer complaints are followed by people's socio-economic rights - pensions, social payments, healthcare, disability evaluation by expert medical boards and education, said ombudsman Kovacheva.
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Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova appeared on the morning show of bTV and commented on the rearranging of the yellow brick pavement in the section near the National Assembly. She said that the company implementing the task has been fined BGN 100,000 for damaging Sofia’s yellow pavement bricks. According to her, the company is owed BGN 260,000, but it has not received any payment for the repair of this section.
24 Chasa has dedicated four pages to the topic of women's health. The articles cover issues such as maintaining reproductive health, dieting, breast cancer, hair loss. The first article reads that women fall sick more often, however, they live longer.
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Trud has also dedicated four pages to health, however on various topics concerning anybody, such as healthy water intake level, healthy building of muscle mass, how to treat a headache without using medicinal drugs and how anxiety affects the immune system. One article announces the upgrade of specialized facilities at a rural area hospital. Another article is a short interview with Prof. Georgi Momekov who says that removing all restrictions related to COVID-19 is not rational.
24 Chasa has an interview with lawyer Velislav Velichkov, who is quoted in the headline, saying that Bulgaria does not need a Prosecutor General. According to Velichkov, the figure of the investigating prosecutor should be introduced in the constitution, it should have nothing to do with the prosecution office and it should be clear that he is outside it. He says that Bulgaria is a parliamentary republic and if someone is investigating the prosecutor general, the National Assembly should also be involved.
The cover story in this week's issue of Capital Weekly is about education. Entitled "Education: Bulgaria's Moon Mission". The story says that Bulgarian education has reached its lower dead point and has been there for quite some time. This is impacting the labour market, the competitiveness of some sectors and the quality of public services and the administration. What takes to change that is a lot of ambition to raise the quality of education and hefty funding to pay for such ambition. The story also catalogues the education priorities in the election platforms of the two key coalitions in the race for the April 2 snap general elections: Continue the Change – Democratic Bulgaria (CC-DB) and GERB-UDF. Both aim for education funding equal to 5% of GDP for schools and 1% for universities.
In another story on the topic, Assenka Hristova of the Institute for Education Studies says that Bulgarian education needs a brand-new paradigm. She says that the world does not reward students for pure knowledge but for what they can do with it; that Bulgaria can learn from the experience of other countries that have already modernized their education in this direction; and that reforms need to happen fast because otherwise too many young people risk finding themselves in the fringes of society. The author says that nearly 32% of Bulgarian students are functionally illiterate; that the results of Bulgarian students in the PISA tests are worsening. She points out the obvious: that countries with higher quality of education have more resilient economies and recover faster from economic shocks.
A third story on education in Capital Weekly says in the headline that "More Money Is Good But It Matters More Where It Will Go". The author argues that pouring more money in an unreformed and unprepared system won't produce the desired results. The process of budgeting goes through correctly setting the goals, analyzing the problems, planning the needed measures and calculating their cost, the story says.
In Capital Weekly, the founder of the Trakia Economic Zone near Plovdiv, Plamen Panchev, says that there is public mistrust in vocational education in Bulgaria.
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Trud quotes former Education Minister Krassimir Valchev saying that state expenditures for education should amount to 1% of Bulgaria's GDP.
Capital Weekly has two stories about drought across Europe and the half-empty water reservoirs in Bulgaria. It says that the experts are warning that without heavy rainfall last year's drought can be repeated. The dry winter in France is already causing concern that the production of energy will be harmed, aggravating further the situation with energy supplies in Europe. The story also concludes that the global climate trends clearly show that natural disasters will be having a stronger impact of the economies. In Bulgaria, the dry winter means less water in reservoirs, which is already impacting the energy sector. Since the start of 2023, waterpower plants have produced 40% less electricity than last year. People are not yet threatened with water rationing but the authorities have to be very careful with some reservoirs and how much water they supply for power production and for irrigation.