site.btaMedia Review: May 17

Media Review: May 17
Media Review: May 17
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ANTI-CRISIS MEASURES

All media report in detail the anti-crisis package that was revealed Monday by Continue the Change, the largest party in the ruling coalition. 

24 Chasa sums up the proposed measures: total value of BGN 2 billion; minimum wage of BGN 450 and maximum of 3,400; lower VAT for central heating but not for bread; no excise duty for electricity. The daily explains the practical meaning of the measures in a full-page story.

In a wrap-up of all related developments, Dnevnik.bg writes that “the parties in the ruling coalition are trying to outrun each other in a race of anti-inflationary measures”. The power-holders don’t have yet a final decision on the package but the most important of them have already been announced.  The full package will be discussed at a meeting of the parties in the ruling coalition on Tuesday evening. The “race” triggered a reaction by the leader of the power-sharing There Is Such a People (TISP), Slavi Trifonov, who accused the Prime Minister’s Continue the Change party of making decisions without consulting the other coalition partners. Then TISP deputy Lyubomir Karimanski said that none of the proposed measures had been discussed with and approved by TISP, the story says. It goes on to catalogue the measures that have been announced by various government coalition representatives in recent days: Finance Minister Assen Vassilev confirmed that there are plans to scrap the excise duty for electricity, gas, methane and propane-butane; next Socialist leader and Economy Minister Korneliya Ninova boasted good results from a meeting of an advisory board on fuel that she presided over; Labour Minister Georgi Gyokov (Socialist) announced an increase of pensions and the minimum wage as of July 1; MP Ivo Mirchev (Democratic Bulgaria) said that the threashold for VAT registration will be raised to BGN 100,000 from BGN 50,000; finally, on Monday Continue the Change held a news briefing and said it would propose 14 measures and seek the coalition partners' approval for at least eight of them.

All print and online media outlets report in detail the Facebook post of TISP leader Slavi Trifonov with his criticism of Continue the Change. 

In a bTV interview on Tuesday morning, Continue the Change floor leader Andrei Gyurov dismissed Trifonov's accusations and said that the TISP leader never attends the coalition partners' meetings. "It has always been of utmost importance for us to make sure we have dialogue in the coalition," he said.

In the morning programme of the Bulgarian National Television (BNT) on Tuesday, Innovations Minister Daniel Lorer denies accusations that the proposed measures will drive up inflation and says the public purse has enough money for the measures worth BGN 2 billion.  He said the Bulgarian economy is growing and Bulgarian export has reached new highs.  People's incomes should increase above the rate of inflation so as to make sure nobody feels they are getting poorer - and that it is aim of raising pensions and child benefits, he said. If inflation continues to go up, the government will update pensions accordingly so that older Bulgarians can live their life with dignity. He did not rule out having a new anti-inflationary package several months from now, if necessary. 

On BNT, Podkrepa union leader Dimiter Manolov and the leader of the Association of Industrial Capital in Bulgaria, Vassil Velev, said that the proposed anti-inflationary measures have not been discussed with them. They agree that dialogue with the government is improving but is far from the European standards. 

Their comment comes ahead of a meeting of the government with the unions and employers (tripartite council) later on Tuesday. 

Velev also says that the anti-inflationary measures are late and insufficient. 

24 Chasa carries a brief comment by some of the participants in a meeting of the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister with employers and unions on Monday, where the sides agreed on compensations for the high energy prices (and the employers said they were not going to hold a national protest on May 18 but remain on protest alert). Here is what they say: 

Kiril Domouschiev, leader of the Confederation of Employers and Industrialists in Bulgaria: I have the bitter feeling that things are not going to happen [as promised]; Bulgarian Industrial Association leader Dobrin Mitrev: There is no politics in our demands, we also talk economy; Vassil Velev: We would not accept to have all criticism of the government dismissed as being pro-Russian; Dimiter Manolov: I still believe there is going to be a protest of road hauliers.

In a front-page story, Trud says that the power-holders are "trying to buy popular love with money from our taxes" and that the government is lying about the pension increase. The story also says that the reform in the pension system is being delayed for October 1 despite the promises. 

24 Chasa has an editorial on the proposed package of 14 measures worth BGN 2 billion. “The idea is to cushion the blow from the crises that come one on top of the other, including the increasing inflation and the shocks from the Ukraine war. Such measures are most needed because the quality of life in Bulgaria has hit the bottom. When there are large groups of people who live on and below the poverty line, it leaves nothing to be optimistic about. Without radical reforms this country can’t bottom out and continue with the policy of barely surviving between crises,” says the commentary.

POLITICS, UKRAINE WAR

In its morning show, bTV presented a new Market Links/bTV poll which measures the popularity of the country’s leaders and key politicians. The lead of the report on the poll in the bTV website says that Bulgarians trust more the leader of the nationalist Vazrazhdane party, Kostadin Kostadinov, than they do Prime Minister Kiril Petkov. The former has 19% approval and the latter 17%.

Social Analyst Dobromir Zhivkov of Market Links said in a BNR interview that the decline in support for the state institutions is due to "a built-up of crises, which makes for a perfect storm". The poll indicates a growing anxiety among respondents and fear of loss of employment and purchasing power, he said.

In a two-page interview in Telegraf daily, political scientist Andrei Raychev speaks of a "cold war" between President Radev and Continue the Change. Raychev also says (according to Telegraf's own highlights) that: the President is more relaxed in his behaviour because he is the only one who has no elections to go to; the President's positions are now closer to those of former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov than Kiril Petkov's; the nationalist Vazrazhdane party attracts the votes of discontent; and the newly announced party of former caretaker Prime Minister Stefan Yanev is turning from a small to a mid-size party.

Mediapool.bg quotes Socialist MP Kroum Zarkov as saying on the Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) that his Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) has taken a firm downward course. His remark came on the same day when a new poll showed that the Socialists would lose the fourth place in Parliament and become the fifth political force if elections were held now. Zarkov is an outspoken opponent of BSP leader Korneliya Ninova, the e-zine says. The MP is quoted as writing in a Facebook comment on the said poll: “Are we going to let the Left be marginalized out of existence the way it happened in Poland and Hungary or are we going to find energy to consolidate and aim for the leading position the way they have done in Germany?”

Mediapool and Dnevnik quote former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov who said on bTV Monday that President Rumen Radev, former President Georgi Purvanov and former Prime Ministers Boyko Borissov, Sergei Stanishev and Simeon Saxe-Courg-Gotha all behave like Russian agents. “See the positions of Purvanov and Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha: never against Russia. […]And then after them Sergei Stanishev and Boyko Borissov with his policy of catering to the Russian interests in Bulgaria, and President Radev as well. All these people had the rhetoric, behavior and actions matching the definition of a Russian agent of influence. This justification of Russia, even now! It has been 20 years of talking to Bulgarian people [about Russia] in a way that is inadmissible for a member of NATO and the EU, and it has had people totally confused,” Kostov said on bTV.   

Clubz.bg writes that Russian propaganda in Bulgaria has intensified 10 times since the war in Ukraine started in February. That transpires from a study by the Foundation for Humanitarian and Social Studies, in which the authors monitored online media and blogs in Bulgaria between January 1 and April 17, and catalogued the pro-Russian publications and their key messages. From the start of 2022 to February 24, when Russia attacked Ukraine, there was an average of 39 pro-Kremlin publications a day in the Bulgarian online media. After that, the average number of daily publications soared to 397. The website with the most pro-Russian propaganda is news aggregator Novini247 (which has also come out as the hate speech leader on the issue of the Istanbul Convention). Next is the Crimea-registered NewsFront, which publishes information in 10 languages.  The Top 10 pro-Russian websites include pogled.info (603 publications), Blitz (547) and informiran.net (354). 

ECONOMY

24 Chasa leads with a story saying that Bulgaria has lost positions in the international Catch-up Index (of 35 EU members and candidate countries) due to worsening quality of life caused by lower incomes and early deaths. This country has seen some improvement in the economic criteria but no overall progress in 2021 (29th place with a score of 36), due to which it stays where it was in 2021: last in the EU. Romania has gained a point and is ahead of Bulgaria. Behind Bulgaria are Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, Turkey and Bosnia and Hercegovina. The Catch-up Index is prepared by Open Society Institute in Sofia and the countries are assessed for their performance in four categories: economy, democracy, quality of life and government.

Mediapool.bg reports that “after a week with National Protest stickers on public transport buses", Sofia’s Centre for Urban Mobility presented plans for increasing intervals in the public transport schedules by some 9% due to a shortfall in revenues of hundreds of millions of leva”.  The plan was presented to the transport committee of the Sofia Municipal Council on Monday. Intervals will be increased for all surface transport (buses, trolley buses and trams). Only the underground train service will increase operation because of the opening of four new metro stations.

In the morning programme of Nova TV on Tuesday, energy expert Krassimir Manov says that the prices of energy sources will come down and that Bulgaria will get natural gas that will likely be much cheaper that Russia's. "Those who say the opposite aim to create panic for purely political goals: they want to bring down the government," he said adding that this is not what Bulgaria needs now. He also said that it is proven that Bulgaria has own deposits of energy resources but using them requires considerable investments and long years for prospecting and developing "and Bulgaria has always been kept in energy dependence". "It is a matter of time and government policy to produce our own energy resources," he said.

SOFIA – SKOPJE

Mediapool, BNR and Dnevnik report that the formerly power-sharing VMRO prevented an event of the newly established Club for Bulgarian-Macedonian Friendship with the participation of former North Macedonia Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and Bulgarian historian Stefan Dechev, both of whom are outspoken advocates of closer relations between Sofia and Skopje. It was planned as a member-only event of the Club with invitations also sent out to journalists, but the Sofia Military Club where it was due to take place was taken over by former MPs of VMRO, MEP Angel Djambazki and “a group of some 30 people”, in the words of the organizers. 

bTV had an exclusive interview with Ljubco Georgievski. He said there that the two countries’ prime ministers have a sincere will and energy for a real thaw in bilateral relations but have come under strong pressure from their own coalition partners, the opposition and public opinion. He urged the two countries to focus on friendly relations now than on animocity over the past.

In several interviews, BNR seeks answer to the question of whether civil society can influence relations between Sofia and Skopje. Historian Stefan Dechev says the Club for Bulgarian-Macedonian Friendship, where he is among the founders, aims to "take bilateral contacts out of the diplomatic corridors and bring about a real communication across the border”. The Club hopes to achieve this by creating bilateral groups in “all possible sectors”. “Without trying to escape the problems, we are creating a parallel – alternative – history commission [to the official one that was set up to deal with sticking points in history, culture and education] to encourage or unblock dialogue in the official bilateral mixed history commission," Dechev told BNR.

Another organization, National Circle for Macedonia, also claims to be working for dialogue and cooperation with Skopje. "We are in favour of dialogue between the two countries, the people, the cultures but not at the expense of some fuzzy promises that some time in the distant future things can improve thanks to the benevolence of the Macedonian side while the attacks [against Bulgaria] continue. We cannot allow this to happen," said one of the founders, history professor Plamen Pavlov told BNR. 

Diplomat and foreign relations expert Lyubomir Kyuchoukov tells BNR that the civil society absolutely has to be involved in the process of bringing the two countries closer. "Ending hate speech is a precondition before any tangible steps are made to address the problems," he said. He is not optimistic that it is possible to achieve that in one-and-a-half month and said the only way the differences can be addressed is by a bilateral agreement. 

On Nova TV, Angel Djambazki said that the pressure on Bulgaria to give a green light for the start of Skopje's EU accession talks comes from the West and the US, and this pressure must change direction to make North Macedonia observe its commitments so that it can open EU membership talks. "Paradoxically, this behaviour of the US and the EU works for Russia's interests," he said.
EDUCATION

24 Chasa reports that new rules for assessment of university faculty inflamed professors and they threatened Education Minister Nikolai Denkov with protests. The reform in faculty assessment is a condition for the allocation of another BGN 20 million to university for faculty pay. The Minister intends to add the new rules to the Higher Education Act before it is put to a final vote in Parliament. The Education Minister is quoted as saying that tension is stirred by people who are unhappy about the changes: because they don’t understand them or because they want to stop them, and that what he is doing is a perfectly legitimate procedure of going about legislative changes.

Trud writes of a rift in the coalition over Denkov's reform.

ENVIRONMENT

Mediapool reports that For the Earth environmental organization and Clean Air Task Force have captured on infrared camera leaks of gas along the gas pipelines in Bulgaria. In some of the cases those are permanent leaks and in others only accidental. The exact quantity of natural gas that leaks, has not been measured and the operator of the gas infrastructure, Bulgartransgaz, banned the monitoring of their facilities with infrared camera. For the Earth and Clean Air Task Force have inspected natural gas infrastructure in seven cities, including Sofia, in three days before it transpired that Bulgartransgaz had banned that.

Mediapool has a story about the Monday protest of workers of the Maritsa 3 coal-fired power plant in the southern town of Dimitrovgrad, which was recently ordered to shut down for causing air pollution. Environment Minister Borislav Sandov said after meeting the protesters that the power plant has only gone through “an imitation repair” and it will continue to cause air pollution, due to which he cannot allow it to restart. Sandov urged the protesters to address their grievances to the owner, who is responsible for making sure the prescriptions of the environmental authorities are met. Maritsa 3 is believed to be owned by energy mogul Hristo Kovachki even though he is not the nominal owner but only its adviser. “What we see [instead of the real owners] are people in the UK and Sri Lanka who don’t show up in a Google search,” said Sandov.

In the morning programme of bTV on Tuesday, Todor Todorov, an expert in energy and green transition, confirmed that Maritsa 3 has only had a facelift of its production facilities and does not meet the standards. The consequence from its closure is being exaggerated because it does not have a significant contribution to the energy mix of Bulgaria. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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By 10:23 on 05.07.2022 Today`s news

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