A warning from Bulgaria: Corruption channels are ‘eagerly awaiting’ big EU money
17 Jun 2020

Experts and opposition-minded politicians warned during an online conference on Monday (January 15th) of a “huge” risk of corruption in connection with the generous funds the European Commission has proposed to mobilise in response to the coronavirus crisis.

The conference, organised by EURACTIV Bulgaria and MEP Radan Kanev (EPP, Democratic Bulgaria) with EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, discussed the €750 billion stimulus proposed by Ursula von der Leyen on 27 May. Of this amount, Bulgaria expects to receive about €13 billion to modernise and strengthen its economy.

Breton was the keynote speaker at the conference, although the topic of corruption was addressed in its second part, conducted in Bulgarian language without his participation. The conference was entitled “Life after the pandemic. A return to a normal or new beginning?”

Breton spoke in detail about the European Commission’s response to the crisis, from attempts to provide protective masks to the macroeconomy and the fight against fake news on Internet platforms such as Facebook or Twitter.

The French Commissioner emphasised that the crisis had strengthened the position of those who wanted “more Europe”, while well-known populists in various European countries had been forced to remain silent.

He was also adamant that Europe had coped better with the crisis than the United States, where he said there had been “chaos”.

Breton, whose huge portfolio includes the digital economy, showed good knowledge of Bulgaria. In response to a question by Bulgarian Digital Champion Gergana Passy, he recalled that under the Warsaw Pact, Bulgaria was already a force in computer technology. Indeed, Bulgaria produced the first personal computers in the former Soviet block, under the brand ‘Pravetz’.

Economist Kiril Petkov of the Harvard Program at Sofia University argued that inefficient spending of trillions of euros will only financially burden every European in the future. This risk is even greater, according to Petkov, if these funds are in the form of grants, distributed by European and national bureaucrats.

The risk of this money going in the wrong direction, and especially the risk of corruption, he said, is “huge”, as is in his words the potentially detrimental impact on the entire economic system.

“You will stop thinking about innovation, you will stop thinking about competitiveness, you will only think about who has the right connections, because this will be the easiest money that can be taken,” Petkov said.

Julian Popov, a former environment and water minister and Climate Foundation fellow, said the word “absorption” of funds in the Bulgarian language should be banned. According to him, the effect of “absorption” of European funds is a contraction, while the effect of investing funds is their expansion.

“From €10 billion absorbed, we get a product for €3 billion. Out of €10 billion invested, we get a product for €30 billion,” said Popov, who pleaded for investments in the Bulgarian energy industry according to the British model, in which the closure of coal-fired power plants did not lead to an increase in consumer bills.

‘The negative aspects of normalcy’

According to Radan Kanev, Bulgaria has had “well-maintained corruption channels” since the time of late communism, and the “new beginning” could be a “restart of the mafia at a higher level.”

By Georgi Gotev, Euractiv, 16 June 2020

Read more at Euractiv

Photo (cropped and edited): Deensel/CC BY 2.0

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