site.btaMedia Review: October 3
The Bulgarian Socialist Party has proposed an extraordinary sitting of the National Assembly on Tuesday or Wednesday, Duma reports in its main story. The Socialists want the legislature to require the executive government to reverse its decision on sending the National Recovery and Resilience Plan to the European Commission and to ask the Commission for a month's postponement. Meanwhile, the Podkrepa Confederation of Labour said that protesting coal miners and energy workers have raised six demands, including drawing up an energy strategy until 2050, on which the trade unions and the workers should have a say, and postponing the liberalization of the electricity market for household consumers. Protesters' blockades of key road junctions across Bulgaria went into a fourth day on Monday, the daily reports.
It goes on to say that, according to the final versions of the territorial just transition plans for Bulgaria's three coal regions (Stara Zagora, Pernik and Kyustendil), electricity production from coal will be reduced fourfold by 2030. The closure of coal-fired power plants and coal mines will affect 27,000 people, leading to lasting unemployment and poverty, Duma says.
The topic is covered by other media as well. The 24 Chasa daily notes that the demand to draw up an energy strategy until 2050 is the only one among the workers' six demands that can be fulfilled relatively quickly. According to the paper, National Assembly Energy Committee Chair Delyan Dobrev (GERB-UDF) and his deputy Radoslav Ribarski (Continue the Change - Democratic Bulgaria) share the view that the Energy Committee can discuss draft amendments to the Energy Act on second reading and consider a Roadmap for Climate Neutrality on Wednesday, after which the two pieces of legislation can be moved to the full House. A third law, which deals with renewable energy sources, was adopted on Friday. If these important changes are not approved, the government is very likely to resign, senior members of parliamentary groups warn.
Energy expert Yavor Kuyumdzhiev commented for Trud: "The incumbents speak nonsense when they say that coal-fired power plants will die for economic reasons. You cannot milk energy like a cow; EU aid will end at some point. Rather than letting EU money pour into cronies' companies, [Bulgarian politicians] should learn from Czechia, where there are a huge number of clean thermal power plants in operation. Sweden is beginning to make thermal power plants which capture and store carbon dioxide."
Energy Committee Deputy Chair Ribarski said on the morning talk show of bTV that the protests have acquired political overtones. "The issue has been put off and politicized for a long time now, and we cannot keep these people in the dark anymore. The matter is raised every time ahead of elections and is used for political manipulation of the people working in the sector," Ribarski said. (Bulgaria will hold local elections on October 29.)
Environment and Water Minister Julian Popov said on BNT1, the main channel of Bulgarian National Television, that it is not true that Brussels is giving money to Bulgaria to close a certain type of power plants. He said the contraction of coal production is a market process, and the EU is giving Bulgaria money to manage it.
Speaking on the morning talk show of Nova TV, Deputy Energy Minister Krassimir Nenov dismissed fears that Bulgaria may experience a shortage of electricity and may have to import it at a high price. Discussing coal-fired power plants, Nenov said: "The electricity system needs to maintain certain characteristics. The existing capacities of the coal-fired power plants can provide these characteristics. They are currently providing such services to the electricity system. If they fail to do that, the operator will have to look for alternative solutions. Therefore, talks are underway with the Electricity System Operator about creating a mechanism to provide such services."
"Recovery Plan Brings Zeros, Not Millions", caps an analysis on SegaBG.com. The website says that a serious delay in implementing the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP), under which Bulgaria expects to receive a total of EUR 5.7 billion in EU funding, is beginning to cause understandable miscarriages. Instead of hundreds of millions, as set in the NRRP, projects are getting big fat zeros due to delays and other problems.
This transpires from a detailed list of investments under the NRRP which will be revised, the author explains. Last week, the government approved changes to 17 measures due to the reduction of the NRRP budget by EUR 578 million. Such cuts were made in many EU member states after their GDP for 2020 and 2021 was re-calculated, so the smaller budget is old news, but it will be interesting to see what investments will be abandoned as a result.
One of these investments is a key project in healthcare: the building of a national centre for cancer treatment by proton therapy, with a focus on treating children. The project was to be funded with BGN 157 million (EUR 80.3 million) in EU money. The government reasoned that this difficult project has been delayed and it is unrealistic to expect it to be completed within the NRRP time limit.
Another project, favoured by the incumbents from the Continue the Change coalition, will also be dropped. It was about the digital transformation of the postal system. Under the ambitious BGN 101 million (EUR 51.6 million) project, the posts would begin to provide many new services, such as door-to-door delivery of IDs, payment operations, and measuring people's most common health indicators such as heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure and blood sugar using biodiagnosis terminals.
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Finance Minister Assen Vassilev has trouble with the state budget, Trud says in its main story. VAT revenues between January and August 2023 were under 60% of the annual target, the daily says, citing Finance Ministry data. This may require cutting down on some public expenditures if the budget deficit is to stay below 3% of GDP, which is a requirement for entry to the eurozone.
According to the paper, Bulgaria has the EU's largest share of informal economy. It accounts for 33.1% of official GDP, as shown by a survey commissioned by a European Parliament committee. Another international survey covered in the same paper shows a considerable risk of overdue payments and non-performing receivables in two out of every three sectors of the Bulgarian economy.
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The complete reshuffle of the management of the National Company for Railway Infrastructure (NCRI), which handles billions of leva in EU funding, is already a fact, MediaPool.bg reports in its top story. The new three-member Board of Directors was presented to the staff after the change was entered into the Commercial Register.
The new Chair of the Board of Directors is Kamen Dikov, former chief of the Irrigation Systems Company, who had also been considered to head State Fund Agriculture. He is from the quota of the Continue the Change coalition. Former military counterintelligence officer and payroll staffer of the communist-era State Security (the secret political police) Vasko Balabanov has been appointed as a Board member at the NCRI. This leaves the new Director General, Maria Genova, as the only Board member whose background has something to do with the railways. She has worked with the NCRI for about 10 years, since the time of the GERB government.
The management makeover is explained with delays in railway infrastructure projects funded mainly with EU money. Another reason is that the European Public Prosecutor's Office is investigating two Bulgarian railway projects funded with BGN 620 million from the EU, the website says.
Bulgarian MEP Andrey Novakov, who has taken an unpaid leave from the European Parliament to do military service for a month, has been interviewed by 24 Chasa. Asked why he considers military service important for every man, Novakov says: "Taking responsibility always adds meaning to life. Not only men can do military service, women can do it too, although practice shows that it is mainly a men's thing." He hopes to give 25-to-40-year-old men cause to reflect. "We know from history that empires collapsed when their defence was placed in the hands of foreign mercenaries and ceased to be a duty of their own people. That is why I am here: I have a duty to fulfill. It is the constitutional duty of every citizen to defend their country."
LAW & ORDER
A murder suspect wanted in Bulgaria was arrested in the Netherlands and then released due to a legal deficiency which the Bulgarian legislators never took time to address, 24 Chasa says in its main story. Rangel Bizyurev, 30, was detained in the Western European country in September as a suspect in the Tsalapitsa murder case in Bulgaria. Less than 72 hours later, he was free to go, because it was legally impossible to ask for his indefinite detention and subsequent extradition. This was due to the fact that, under Bulgarian law, a European arrest warrant issued by the prosecution service is unappealable in court, which is at variance with EU law.
According to the daily, Bulgarian lawmakers are aware of the problem and even discussed it in earlier parliaments but could not find the time to resolve it. They need to amend the Criminal Procedure Code and the European Arrest Warrant Act.