site.btaMedia Review: September 18
GRAIN PRODUCERS' PROTESTS
Most publications on Monday, including Duma, Trud, Telegraph, Sega, Mediapool, 24 Chasa again focus the backlash between Prime Minister Denkov and grain producers, after the Prime Minister and the government supported lifting the ban on import of Ukrainian agricultural products. The grain producers threatened massive protests, and Prime Minister Denkov likened them to terrorists. This caused backlash during the weekend, from both grain producers and political figures, including GERB leader Boyko Borissov and Vice President Iliana Iotova, Democratic Bulgaria's Nadezhda Yordanova, and many others. The head of the National Grain Producer Association, Ilia Prodanov, resigned as adviser to the Agriculture Minister. The Bulgarian Farmers Union condemned Denkov's words. The sector decided to protest and refused the government's invitation for a meeting twice, after it became clear that when they did want to talk earlier, they were not given the opportunity. Prime Minister Deknov said that he was was ready to apologize, but not to those in the sector who have used up most of the aid for personal gain. The government has never refused a dialogue with the organizations in the agriculture sector, stressed Dekov, and promised strict control over Ukrainian imports. He also said that the agricultural sector receives extremely high subsidies and aid (increased by BGN 426 million in 2022, and 2023) , and that proves that there is no lack of support from the state. Denkov also said he sees no reason for the resignation of Agriculture Minister Kiril Vatev at the moment.
24 Chasa quotes the Bulgarian Agrarian Chamber (BAC), which denied Prime Minister Denkov's claim that at their meeting on July 25, they agreed to support the lifting of the ban on imports from Ukraine. The producers present were told that if the ban on imports is lifted, feed will become cheaper. However, the BAC pointed out that the price of feed is determined by the feed mills, and the price for farmers has not changed so far. "Last but not least, in order to be able to claim that those present approved, there should be a recorded vote, and there was none," the BAC statemen read.
Telegraph, Duma, Mediapool and Trud, and other publications note that the protest actions of the Bulgarian Farmers Union (BFU) will begin on Monday, September 18, and will include blocking border checkpoints and main roads throughout the country. BFU Chair Georgi Stoyanov said that it has come to this due to the lack of dialogue with the government, and that for the first time in years the entire sector is coming together for a general protest. Mediapool notes that this is not true, because there are organizations that do not support the protest. The protestors demand a continuation of the ban on the import agricultural products from Ukraine. Their other demands are related to the payment of compensations and state aid.
Mediapool quotes BAC Director Svetla Boyanova, who said that the protests aim to protect production, not subsidies."The protest actions are not only about the import of grain from Ukraine, but also about all other issues that concern the fruit and vegetable sector, animal breeders, beekeepers. The topic of imports from third countries, including Ukraine, is extremely serious. We we are fighting for a competitive environment and nothing more. More than 22 organizations are involved in this protest," she said. Part of the issue is that in Bulgaria, a big part of the subsidies is received by a small group of grain producers, due to the fact that Eurosubsidies are given on the basis of direct payments per area. As a result of the distribution of subsidies in Bulgaria, a monstrous concentration of ownership has been achieved, which is demolishing small businesses in the sector. Boyanova stressed that this stalemate could be resolved through dialogue and concrete policies, as well as conditions for new markets.
Mediapool also reports that the grain producers' protest is not supported by all livestock farmers and fruit and vegetable producers, as was confirmed in a Facebook post by Petar Petrov, head of the National Association of Young Farmers. Petrov notes that this is because the big grain producers never supported the other branches, accumulating for almost 20 years a huge part of the agricultural subsidies. As a result, grain growers have become less and less, but with increasingly large lands, while other producers are disappearing, Petrov stressed.
24 Chasa adds that Svetoslav Ilchovski, the ninth largest grain producer in the country, said that he will not participate in the protests. He argued that they should have taken place much earlier, "when animal husbandry and vegetable production were being destroyed". Ilchovski said that uncontrolled imports from Ukraine will affect prices, but at the same time he expressed doubt that the latest reports from the US about an overharvest were manipulated. Their goal, according to him, was to lower stock prices at the exact moment when the new harvest in this region came out. "They're kind of telling us to sell now when prices are low," Ilchovski said.
24 Chasa quotes Mariana Kukusheva, head of the Federation of Bakers and Confectioners in Bulgaria, who promised there will not be a single bread made from Ukrainian wheat and that quality of the bread would not decrease. Large bread producers have prepaid the necessary quantities of wheat so that they do not have to use Ukrainian wheat. She pointed out that thanks to grain producers the food crisis two years ago was overcome. "Unfortunately, however, Bulgarian grain producers received between two and three times less subsidies than other European countries," she said. She also thanked Finance Minister Assen Vassilev, who proposed retaining zero VAT for bread.
Trud quotes former deputy minister of agriculture Georgi Sabev, who questioned why the lifting of the import ban required such a public declaration and a political decision by the National Assembly, instead of just letting it expire. He noted that Bulgaria is the only country that already has a political decision not to continue the ban in any form. Poland and Hungary have strong positions on the issue, Slovakia and Romania are still considering.
Mediapool reports that Bulgaria will request EUR 500 million in infrastructure aid from the EU to build additional silos, port facilities and install specialized cranes, in order to increase its potential for the transfer of grain from Ukraine. The publication notes that the caretaker government lost two years and did request such support, while similar aid has already been implemented in other EU countries.
The subject was also central in most morning talk shows on Monday.
In a Bulgarian National Television (BNT) discussion, National Association of Grain Producers head Ilia Prodanov said that the protests are not some kind of lobbying, but a struggle for the sector to survive. He pointed out that the problem is that Bulgaria doesn't even see a problem. Yani Yanev, head of the Oilseed Oil Producers Association in Bulgaria, argued that this country needs sunflower imports from Ukraine, as production is not sufficient. Consumer Protection Association Chairman Peyo Mayorski argued that the best regulation is the market itself.
Nova's morning programme pondered are the farmers "terrorists" or protestors with just demands. Senior economist Georgi Angelov was adamant that imports from Ukraine were insignificant and will not negatively affect this country. Former deputy minister of agriculture Svetlana Boyanova argued that the Ukrainian production will "undercut" the price of the Bulgarian one and this will affect consumers, while the native production will remain in the warehouses.
In a Nova interview, Bulgarian Food Safety Agency's Dr. Ivan Genchev stressed that no heavy metals were detected in wheat from Ukraine. Since last year, all shipments have been tested for indicators, including heavy metals. 575 samples were taken from October 1, 2022 to May 2023, all negative. The statement was a response to warnings by Mariana Kukusheva, head of the Federation of Bakers and Confectioners in Bulgaria, of heavy metals in Ukrainian wheat due to lack of strict requirements for the quality of products the country.
Duma, Trud, 24 Chasa report that beekeepers are also preparing a national protest on October 10. Some 21 organizations united in a joint declaration with 8 super-urgent measures to protect the sector. Production is directly dependent on a lack of control on honey that comes from Ukraine and China. A total of 60% of last year's production remains in warehouses because producers are not willing to sell at the current low prices. The main request of the beekeepers is to build a joint strategy to support the sector at the EU level, to build an electronic system for tracking the origin of honey, and for Bulgarian honey to become a protected brand.
24 Chasa quotes MEP Ivo Hristov from the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament, who called Ursula von der Leyen's call for Bulgaria and Romania to be admitted to Schengen meaningless, as it was disregarded 24 hours later. "If someone was naive enough to believe that they could trade Bulgaria's entry into Schengen against the ban on Ukrainian grain, that was at their expense. Bulgaria is making big concessions, at times even historic compromises and receives nothing," Hristov said pointing to the compromise regarding the Bulgarian veto on EU negotiations with the republic North Macedonia that only led to new shenanigans in Skopje and to multiple assaults against Bulgarians there.
Mediapool quotes GERB Boyko Borissov, who indirectly called for changes in the cabinet, by calling Agriculture Minister Kiril Vatev "weak", called on Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov to start negotiations with the grain producers, and reminded the latter they took nearly BGN 30 billion in subsidies from the EU during his rule. Finally, Borissov praised the people in Parliament, including controversial MP Delyan Peevski, for in helping end the European Commission's monitoring mechanism (Cooperation and Verification Mechanism) in Bulgaria and Romania.
On BNT's morning programme, former justice minister Krum Zarkov stressed that the abolition of the monitoring mechanism over Bulgaria should encourage the deepening of the reforms, noting that there has been no progress in this direction in the last 100 days. Legal expert Emil Georgiev noted that the arguments regarding Bulgaria's progress achieved are not very convincing and that people should have higher expectations regarding justice towards the Bulgarian authorities.
Mediapool, Duma, 24 Chasa quote Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP0 leader Korneliya Ninova, who speculated that GERB leader Borissov is using the protests of the grain producers to overthrow the government, due to Borissov's statement that he he gave BGN 30 billion to the farmers. Regardless of BSP's position that grain producers receive too many subsidies compared to other farmers, Ninova considers their protest to be well-founded.
Mediapool, 24 Chasa report that there was an international assembly of Russophiles on Sunday in Kalofer. "I am convinced that we will win and everything will be different," declared Russian Ambassador Eleonora Mitrofanova at the event, organized by the National Russophiles Movement, led by Nikolai Malinov, who has been.accused of spying for Russia and sanctioned by the US under the Magnitsky Act. Mitrofanova read out an address by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The Argyrovi brothers were supposed to perform, but stated that that they had been misled about the nature of the event and would not participate.
Trud, Duma, Sega report that a total of 16 parties formed the local coalition BSP for Bulgaria and nominated Vanya Grigorova as mayor of Sofia. "We are making this coalition because Sofia should belong to everyone. And not to a certain group of people who have ruled this city for 30 years, while the majority suffers from this rule," said the Chairman of BSP - Sofia Ivan Takov.
Trud, Telegraph, Sega, 24 Chasa report that GERB-UDF registered its 24 candidates for district mayors in Sofia, but the name of the candidate for Sofia mayor remained a secret. Sofia Municipal Council chair Georgi Georgiev called for patience and promised that the candidacy would be announced within days. Over the weekend, GERB leader Borissov announced two more candidates for mayors of regional cities - Ivan Portnih for Varna and Krasimir Nikolov for Dobrich. GERB Sliven nominated its previous mayor Stefan Radev for the third time.
Telegraph, Sega and 24 Chasa quote Sofia mayoral candidate, nominated by the Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria coalition and Save Sofia, Vasil Terziev, who said that the GERB candidate does not matter, that the struggle is against the way of governance. Terziev will focus coming up with the most correct working formula, so that the public interest will be represented. Terziev admitted that GERB had some good initiatives, including the metro and Green Sofia. He also said that some of the Russian-named streets such as "Graf Ignatiev" and "Aksakov" could get better names, and that the Soviet Army Monument belongs in the Socialist Art Museum.
Telegraph reports of extremely strong migrant pressure at Turkish-Bulgarian border, according to Interior Minister Kalin Stoyanov. In the last 24 hours alone, 980 attempts to enter the country illegally have been thwarted. An option is being discussed to make the migrant camp in Elhovo operational again. Pathologists in Burgas confirmed that their morgue "is overflowing with nameless bodies of migrants found in Strandzha and Sakar" from the past couple of years. The profiles are almost identical, men between 18 and 40 years old, who died most often from exhaustion, heart failure, stroke, heart attack or viral disease, due to exhaustion and dehydratation. Many of the autopsies found a green powdery substance in the stomachs of the deceased, probably a drug provided by traffickers to ease the fatigue of the kilometre-long treks. However, the bodies of the refugees cannot be released for official burials because none of them have identity documents. Dr. Galina Mileva, head of the Forensic Medicine Department at the Burgas Hospital has already made a proposal for a change in the law regarding easing the procedure for releasing the bodies. "In my opinion, with the workload we have, in two weeks we can establish with DNA who the persons are and bury them," Mileva added.
Mediapool reports that Spanish authorities, together with Europol and Interpol, have conducted a successful operation against an organized crime group suspected of manipulating sports matches worldwide. The group used satellite technology to obtain information about the development of matches before the bookies, BNR reported, citing information from Interpol. 23 suspects were arrested, including one of the group's leaders. The criminal network was composed of people of Romanian and Bulgarian origin. It was established that they fixed matches outside Spain by bribing athletes, including from Romania and Bulgaria.
Sega and Mediapool quote Interior Minister Kalin Stoyanov, who said that a month later, still no suspect has been identified for the murder of businessman Alexey Petrov. A few days after the murder, the Interior Ministry said that there were leads that were being worked on. Then, Minsiter Stoyanov commented that there were two main versions - murder for revenge or because of a financial debt. Thus, he rejected the version that Petrov was killed because of political connections. Businessman Alexey Petrov was shot dead in Sofia's Dragalevtsi suburb on August 16.
24 Chasa and Mediapool try to explain issues surrounding sunflower production in Bulgaria and the intense calls to ban imports from Ukraine. The publications note that Bulgaria became a net importer of sunflower even before the war due to a structural change in the national economy and investments in processing capacities for sunflower, according to an an analysis by the Institute for Market Economy (IME). Bulgaria was traditionally an exporter of sunflower (in the last ten years the export was within 600-800 thousand tonness per year). In the last 10 years, there has been a growth in the import of sunflower, aimed to turn Bulgaria from a large net exporter of sunflower into a large net exporter of oil. The country's net export earnings from the oil trade have increased from around EUR 250 million before the pandemic (2019) to nearly EUR 1.2 billion in 2022.
In a situation where the debate on the trade of a specific raw material does not simply pit domestic producers against consumers, the arguments to put obstacles in front of imports completely lose ground, 24 Chasa explains, quiting the IME report. If the goal through the restrictions is to raise the price for the production of local sunflower producers, then the negative will be borne by all consumers (through the prices of the final products), as well as directly by the processors, who will lose a competitive advantage. Such a policy does not make any sense, even without raising the topic of subsidies and profits in agriculture or the geopolitical argument for support for Ukraine.
Telegraph reports that authorities are thinking of removing the tax reductions for establishment businesses imposed during the pandemic, due to the expected excess deficit in the budget. The daily notes that due to the measure establishments remained open, they managed to save their business, but the difficulties in finding labour are deepening, due to the low wage. The Bulgarian Hotel & Restaurant Association pointed out that, unlike other European countries, Bulgarian tourism has "paid" for the VAT reduction with the increase in the insurance threshold. The association recalled that Tourism Minister Zaritsa Dinkova is also against such a change, and hope hope she will defend her position in the Council of Ministers.
Duma, Mediapool publish data from a National Statistical Institute study which show that the majority of Bulgarians (51.8%) did not read a single book last year. The study shows a significant drop of 4.9% in book reading compared to a 2016 study. A total of 58.5% of women read at least one book, while only of men 38% did. Just over a third of the population (36.5%) reads newspapers every day, including electronic editions. Over 40% of people in the country did not visit a single cultural event last year, either. Some 38.8% attended a play, concert, opera or ballet at least once. The number of people who watched a movie in the cinema was almost the same, 38.7%. Visitors to museums, art galleries or archaeological excavations were 38.6%.