site.btaMedia Review: September 26
MEDIA REVIEW 26.09.2023
The meeting between Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mariya Gabriel and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was covered in all major media outlets on Tuesday. The bilateral meeting took place in Washington within the second session of the strategic dialogue between Bulgaria and the US. The main topics of the dialogue are seeking common approaches to regional and global problems, deepening cooperation in defence and security, economy and energy, protecting democracy and the rule of law, as well as expanding bilateral ties. A Memorandum of Understanding between Bulgaria and the US on countering foreign manipulation of information, which will be signed in the framework of the forum.
Media specialist Georgi Lozanov, who also serves as Head of BTA’s Culture Department, political scientists Dimitar Ganev and Parvan Simeonov, and public relations specialist Pepi Dimitrova held a debate in Nova TV’s morning talk show on Tuesday, commenting on the upcoming local elections and, more specifically, the candidacy of journalist Anton Hekimyan. Hekimyan is the Sofia mayoral candidate of the GERB-UDF coalition.
In Dimitrova’s words, the constant nomination of non-partisan people to key positions is killing partisanship. "This is another move by [Boyko] Borissov to trap the Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria (CC-DB) coalition. He gives them the mayor's seat at the expense of [winning a majority in] the City Council, and the mayor is always hostage to the decisions of the City Council", she warned.
According to Lozanov, there is a conflict of interests in moving from one role to another, although it is a fairly widespread practice in Bulgaria (talking about going from being a journalist to becoming a politician). "I don't think that this is very reprehensible. The point is that a burden falls on GERB that increases the suspicion that GERB has close ties with the media, which become a political resource at certain moments," Lozanov said.
Ganev believes that GERB's main idea with Hekimian's candidacy is to seek a better result in a possible run-off, because, in the words of the political scientist, the non-partisan candidate will improve his results in the run-off, compared to the partisan candidate, attracting the peripheral electorate of the other parties from the first round.
According to Simeonov, GERB leader Boyko Borissov is trying to soften a potential loss in Sofia by presenting the race as non-political. "He is trying to present it as a show, as a sport which will have a media effect", he said, adding that the second thing Borissov is trying to do is to create the perception of a non-political candidacy, trying to reach the run-off. It will not be an easy fight for GERB to retain its 18-year long rule in Sofia, Simeonov stressed.
After GERB presented former director of news at bTV Anton Hekimyan as their Sofia mayoral candidate on Monday, 24 Chasa frontpages a story saying that many people in Bulgaria "got into politics from the media". The newspaper provides a long list of famous journalists who entered politics over the years. It includes Vice President Iliana Iotova (worked at the Bulgarian National Television between 1991 and 1997), There Is Such A People leader Slavi Trifonov (hosted Slavi’s Show on bTV for 19 years between 2000 and 2019), former member of European Parliament and leader of Bulgaria without Censorship Nikolay Barekov (hosted bTV’s morning talk show between 2003 and 2010), leader of Ataka Volen Siderov (gained popularity by hosting a talk show on Skat TV), among many others.
CC-DB MP Konstantin Bachiyski told the Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) that CC-DB did not reach an agreement on a Burgas mayoral candidate and the coalition will not have a joint candidacy in the upcoming local elections. CC nominated Bachiyski and DB proposed Dimitar Naydenov. On Monday, Naydenov announced that he is ready to withdraw from the mayoral race if a common coalition candidate is found, but on the condition that Bachiyski does the same. Bachiyski did not accept the offer.
"Seeking a new candidacy on the penultimate day sounds absolutely frivolous to me. Such a conversation could have been held 2-3 months ago, but looking for a new candidate one day before the final deadline seems not only frivolous to me, but also seems like a gift to GERB and Dimitar Nikolov (current Burgas mayor and GERB candidate). Maybe this is a kind of seeking a ‘win by walkover’. I am a person who has fought against the outrages of GERB for 12 years and I will not participate in giving them a ‘win by walkover’, Bachiyski said. He said the CC-DB coalition will only have a joint municipal councillors’ candidate list. Despite the disagreement in Burgas, Bachiyski sees no reason for a rift in the CC-DB coalition at the national level.
In a spread interview for 24 Chasa, security expert Tihomir Bezlov with the Center for the Study of Democracy commented on the restructuring of the security services in Bulgaria. "The issue with the special services like SANS (State Agency for National Security) and specialized police structures is an old one. It was clear that since they (*their heads) were appointed by President Radev and more precisely by his advisor, given the strained relations between CC-DB and GERB, it was normal to seek a change of directors of the services. This has been the case with every political change. Now probably the figure of the [Interior Ministry] Chief Secretary is the most typical example for this clash. Under [Plamen] Oresharski (Bulgaria's prime minister from 2013 to 2014), there was even a move to change the law so that the Chief Secretary could only be appointed by Parliament, without the president. Something similar would probably be happening now if the president had not agreed to replace the Interior Ministry Chief Secretary. Let me just recall one detail that the general public has hardly paid attention to. During [Boyko] Borissov's third cabinet, after the Interior Ministry Chief Secretary became a minister, there were three GERB candidates for Chief Secretary that President Radev rejected and only on the fourth attempt did he agree. By which I mean that this type of relationship between GERB and the president is old. Unlike the current situation, however, they tried not to confront each other publicly back then. And that is why Radev's refusals are not known to the general public. If the president does not agree with the nomination for a new director of SANS, the coalition will probably have to change the law. And not because of the local elections. Rather, because as a counterintelligence service, SANS could cause problems for the current government. The only way to prevent this from happening is to control these services, and the shortcut to this is to change their heads. All the politicians have done it so far”, Bezlov explained.
Mediapool.bg recalls that the deadline that Parliament gave Energy Minister Rumen Radev to start negotiations with Ukraine on the sale of the equipment from the unfinished Belene nuclear power plant expired on September 11. Days later, Radev submitted to Parliament's Energy Committee a report on the work done, requesting an additional 90 days to conduct negotiations. MPs told Mediapool.bg that they would rather let the government work without specific deadlines because there are still too many details to be worked out and the Ukrainian parliament has to approve the deal with the specific price for the equipment.
Some of the uncertainties are related to the available assets - what Ukraine needs and what Bulgaria plans to keep for itself. Bulgaria’s only active NPP – the Kozloduy NPP, last requested two of the steam generators as spares, but they may not receive them. One of the most significant issues is the cost of the potential deal. According to the parliament's decision, it should not be less than BGN 1.2 billion. This is the price that the National Electricity Company (NEK) paid to the Russian company Atomstroyexport in the arbitration case for the equipment that was ordered but remains unused after the project for building an NPP in Belene was halted. All equipment manufactured for the Belene NPP has been stored at the nuclear project site for the past 7 years. This is, of course, means considerable maintenance costs.
While it is obvious that Bulgaria's interest is to sell its unwanted equipment at the earliest opportunity, things do not seem to be so simple. For a start, Bulgaria will be looking for a higher price than it paid the Russians for the equipment. The Bulgarian branch of the French auditing company Mazars valued the assets at around BGN 2 billion as it added the project documentation and fees paid for its review and approval to the bill.
Speaking to Nova TV, energy analyst Martin Vladimirov of the Centre for the Study of Democracy argued that fuel prices in Bulgaria should be lower by BGN 0.32 per litre. In his words, citizens have never seen the effect of the derogation that so much effort has been made to achieve in 2022. "We buy Russian oil at 20% lower prices than local markets in Europe, and Lukoil sells at prices close to the European averages.
According to him, the actual market price of unleaded A95 petrol in Bulgaria should be around BGN 2.65 per litre. "In Europe, production costs make up some 32% of the price, in Bulgaria they make up about 58%. This is the mark-up that Lukoil charges and which translates into excess profit," he explained. According to Vladimirov's calculations, Lukoil's excess profit for 2023 so far is BGN 1.8 billion.
Lukoil's gasoline and diesel continue to rise in price, approaching BGN 2.90 per litre, despite the cheap Russian oil with which the company's refinery in Bulgaria operates. According to Fuelo.net (an online platform providing information about the current fuel prices), shared by Sega.bg, a litre of unleaded A95 petrol cost BGN 2.85 on Monday, while a week ago it was BGN 0.03 cheaper. Compared to the beginning of September, the price was lower by some BGN 0.08.
Economist Latchezar Bogdanov told bTV that the derogation of the oil embargo for Bulgaria has benefited Lukoil to a much greater extent than Bulgarian fuel consumers. He presented data showing that until the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, petrol and diesel prices in Bulgaria followed the trend of the price of Russian Urals oil. However, after the start of hostilities, the gap between the price at which Lukoil imports cheap crude and the price of the final oil products from the processing of this crude increased sharply. "The lion's share of the derogation pie goes to the company, while Bulgarian producers continue to pay unreasonably high fuel prices," Bogdanov explained.
In a bTV interview, financial expert Lyubomir Datsov warned that inflation would return in a few weeks, as the indication for this are different trends in Western Europe and on the markets. He added that technologically it is no longer possible to meet the old deadline for Bulgaria's eurozone entry. According to him, the gaps for this are not legislative, but rather everything depends on what structural changes are made in the economy. Datsov shared the opinion that Bulgaria will meet the 3% deficit requirement. "The question is why do we have a 3% deficit now when we have a positive balance", he wondered.
Talking to BNR, Georgi Vuldzhev of the Expert Club for Economics and Politics said that January 1, 2025, is not a mandatory date for Bulgaria to enter the eurozone. "The government says when it would like [Bulgaria] to join, but that is no guarantee it will happen then. In terms of meeting the inflation criterion, we do not see any success. We are still very far from it. Inflation in Bulgaria, according to latest data, is 7.7%. In order to meet the inflation criterion, it must be at least 3% lower. At this point in time, we are very far from meeting the criterion and it is not certain whether we will be able to meet it in time. I am sceptical that this will happen", he added.
Speaking on bTV's morning show, Prof. Iva Hristova, Head of the National Centre for Infectious and Parasitic Diseases, said that for nearly two months now there has been a steady increase in cases of COVID-19 in Bulgaria. In her words, they have increased by 50% in the last week. "Nothing unusual is happening. There will be a big increase (in cases) in October. We are seeing the variability of the virus - new genetic mutations. The sub-variant XBB.1.16 is already in Bulgaria. The vaccines that are coming in now are based on XBB.1.5, and we are seeing variants of it in the country," Hristova added. "This is Omicron. It's characterized by fever, fatigue, joint and muscle pain, cough, runny nose, sneezing [...] It is imperative that we get tested so that we can take measures," she also said.