site.btaMedia Review: October 2
The topic of the ongoing protests of miners and trade unions over the future of coal-fired plants in Bulgaria dominates Monday’s news media.
In an interview on Bulgarian National Radio, Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association head Vasil Velev said that the future of coal-fired plants should be a controllable transition on which public agreement has been reached. “It is important to have dialogue through which good decisions are achieved. We too requested a meeting at the Council of Ministers, because members of ours expressed disagreement and concern over the indicative list of companies that would be financed under the Territorial Just Transition Plans. There will be such a meeting with the Prime Minister and the Energy Minister on Tuesday afternoon. We insist that this process of presenting enterprises’ proposals [for investments in the coal regions of Bulgaria] be restarted, renewed and, correspondingly, that the list of companies be expanded, so that we can have a richer choice, an honest, competitive procedure that is not pre-determined by indicative lists. If that is one of the pros of the protest, then it was obviously worth the difficulties,” he added.
On bTV’s morning show, economist Krassen Stanchev, Pernik heating utility director Chavdar Stoynev, and Podkrepa Conferedation of Labour President Dimitar Manolov commented on the protests. Stanchev argued that the problems in the energy sector date back to 2006, when during Bulgaria’s EU membership negotiations the national specifics – lignite coal – were not taken into view. The Green Deal is like central planning; the economy is not a ventilator that you can switch on and off, he added. According to him, alternative solutions to coal-fired plants should be sought – a problem that has been swept under the rug, and there can be no central planning when looking for alternatives. Stoynev explained that the protesting miners and trade unions are for a clear vision for the coming years that is not described in the Territorial Just Transition Plans. In his words, reducing emissions by 80% as of 2030 does not mean to immediately close down the plants, but they cannot possibly work in a normal regime, and re-qualifying workers who have worked for 30 or more years in this field is very difficult. According to him, money should be invested in natural gas installations. Podkrepa President Manolov said that no one knows what is written in the Territorial Just Transition Plans that Finance Minister Assen Vassilev claims to have submitted to Brussels on Friday, September 29. “It turned out that if he has sent them, he did it on Saturday. After he sent them, he invited the protesters to a meeting on Sunday. For what – to bathe them in lukewarm water?” Manolov asked. He said he sees no way out of the situation but hopes that as usual, the politicians have an ace up their sleeve. “There was a schedule for the reduction of capacities [of coal-fired plants] that would be fatal for them. I want to see the ace up the sleeve. I want to, first of all, learn what they have sent to Brussels. They might have sent something different than what they claim,” he added.
On Nova TV’s morning show, four experts commented on the future of coal-fired plants in Bulgaria. Environment and resource management expert Boyan Rashev said that these plants cannot possible survive in the long term because of the market reality in the EU. Poland solved its problems with these plants by creating a capacity mechanism where the plants are paid to work when needed, but Bulgaria did not do that and missed the chance to save its thermal power plants, which are necessary for the electricity system. Podkrepa Confederation of Labour representative Alexander Zagorov argued that the trade unions have noted the need of just transition long ago, but that transition was conceived in an unfair situation called European Union Emissions Trading System; that is where a large part of the reasons for today’s problems lie. “Rising against the System is impossible but we can request that it be regulated in an admissible manner,” he said. Economist Yulian Voykov argued that renegotiating the quota mechanism is impossible. This is happening all over Europe, thermal power plants are ineffective, he said. Simeon Gorov of the For the Earth Association said that the EU introduces these quotas for emissions not to impede the functioning of Bulgaria’s thermal power plants but to minimize the negative impact of climate change.
On Bulgarian National Television’s morning show, Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD) energy expert Kostantsa Rangelova commented that the CSD’s economic studies show that after 2030, regardless of what date is set for the coal-fired plants’ closure, they will leave the energy mix for economic reasons without creating a risk for a sharp increase in prices and for energy security. Vladimir Topalov, head of the Podkrepa Federation of Miners, said: “We have been hearing about these studies and these models for three years. Had these been done then, the idea was for natural gas, now we would be in another situation.” Former Environment Minister Emil Dimitrov commented that the protesting people will be lied to. “They will set them against part of society – we are suffering, you are winning. These people are heading down the path of the workers in Kremikovtski [a metallurgy company closed down in 2009] and BGA Balkan [Bulgaria’s national air carrier that went bankrupt in 2002],” he argued.
In an interview for Trud, Assoc Prof Stoycho Stoychev, a political expert, comments on the election campaign that began officially on September 29. According to him, the battle for the position of Sofia Mayor between the 22 candidates will be generational: those born after 1980 are the most active voters, and three of the popular candidates are exactly in that age group. The election results will not shake the government and the parliamentary majority, he argues. It is the European Parliament elections that could have an impact, because they will show who has what influence on the national level. Until then, the biggest obstacle facing the incumbent is the constitutional reform.
An analysis on Segabg.com reads that the local elections in October will be important historically, because for the first time they will be held in an environment where the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) is not among the top two political forces in the country. The situation is that of a body with two right legs, as the top forces are the Right-wing GERB and Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria. One could even say that the two legs are actually one, because for the first time the two leading forces are competitors as well as allies within the government, the analysis reads.
On bTV’s morning show, media expert Georgi Lozanov and journalist Konstantin Vulkov commented on the start of the election campaign. According to Lozanov, in Sofia the main clash will be between the Euro-Atlantic majority and pro-Russia candidates. According to Vulkov, the parties are not yet relying on party candidates; they are looking for external figures.
24 Chasa has an interview on the topic of Schengen and the problems in agriculture with Meglena Plougchieva, former deputy prime minister for EU funds (2008-2009) and former ambassador to Germany, Switzerland, and Montenegro; she currently works at the Institute for Economics and International Relations. According to her, it is for political reasons that Bulgaria is still out of Schengen, and that costs money given that heavy duty trucks cross borders for 10 minutes in the Schengen area and for days in Bulgaria. She is skeptical about Bulgaria being accepted in Schengen in December 2023 because of the bad migration situation in Europe. She calls on the power holders to advertise Bulgaria’s strong sides and achievements and to firmly uphold the position that the country should join Schengen no later than this year. Otherwise, Bulgarians and Romanians look like second-class EU citizens and the EU skepticism grows.
On Bulgarian National Television’s morning show, the head of Border Police, Chief Commissioner Anton Zlatanov, said that the migrant pressure has doubled. In January-September 2023, it grew by 50% year on year. The record-high of 1,500 people prevented from entering the country illegally in 24 hours was registered in the summer. The tighter control and good coordination with the Turkish colleagues has reduced the number to some 500 people in 24 hours, he added. Technically and professionally, Bulgaria has met all Schengen entry criteria, and the accession decision is purely political, the Border Police head noted.
24 Chasa reports that MP Delyan Peevski of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms calls on Bulgaria to ban the entry of vehicles with Russian registration in Bulgaria so as to implement the EU-wide sanction imposed by the European Commission in early September. Observing the EU border security rules is of key importance for Bulgaria’s entry in Schengen, he argued. According to Euroactiv, there are over 300,000 Russian nationals with real estate in Bulgaria. The ban would prevent them from coming here by car.
Telegraf quotes Der Spiegel as reporting that the five Bulgarians arrested in the UK for spying for Russia have been active in Germany as well. The three men and two women living in London and Norfolk were arrested in February and accused of being part of an organised network which carried out surveillance on named targets for the benefit of Russia.
On bTV’s morning show, Health Minister Hristo Hinkov said that there is strong interest in the vaccines against COVID-19; over 4,000 people have gotten the jab thus far. Bulgaria can order additional quantities if needed. There are enough anti-flu vaccines, he added. The Health Ministry will table draft revisions to the Medicinal Products Act amending the existing formula for re-exporting medicine and the percentage of compulsory market availability to 100% from the current 65% so as to solve the problem with the shortage of medicinal products in the country. A report of the State Agency for National Security on the matter does not make clear all the reasons for the shortage; they are complex and are not linked only to re-export, Hinkov explained.
24 Chasa’s front-page story reads that a report of the European Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism is proposing the introduction of a category B+ driver’s license for vehicles heavier than 1,800 kg. That covers SUVs as well as electric cars, because their batteries make them as heavy as an SUV.
Capital.bg reports that while in some European countries the governments are directly taxing banks’ excess profits, Bulgaria’s Finance Ministry is trying to achieve a similar goal in a roundabout way. The idea is to no longer recognize as tax costs certain bank expenditures, which would basically increase the tax banks have to pay. The effect will not be significant: around BGN 40 to 50 million for the Exchequer. High-ranking manages in several banks, including such that are part of international groups, unofficially spoke negatively about the idea. They explained that such an approach has not been used in any EU Member State or country in Central and Eastern Europe, and it demonstrates complete lack of understanding of the banking business.
Trud’s front-page article reads that in the last month, the government has stopped displaying the prices of basic food products in Austria, Germany, Croatia, Greece, Romania, Czechia, Slovenia, and France on the website www.foodprice.bg, launched by the caretaker cabinet back in March with promises to fight speculators. The website was supposed to display the prices of certain food products in Bulgaria and eight European countries with weekly updates, so that consumers could have an idea who and where is inflating the prices. Now, the website only shows whether the food products are appreciating or depreciating, which in no way helps Bulgarian consumers get an idea of whether they are paying more or less for a given product than European consumers. Traders told the daily that food is much cheaper in Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkiye, and Romania, despite their citizens’ incomes being two- to three-fold higher than Bulgarians’.
Telegraf’s headline reads that the central heating bills are becoming similarly high to electricity ones in homes where the most energy-consuming heating appliances are used.