Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s efforts to hang on to power amid a spiraling corruption crisis face an unexpected new challenge after a top ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday urged closer scrutiny of Sofia.
For years, Borissov has enjoyed a close alliance with Merkel, and his importance to her center-right European People’s Party grouping on the European stage has triggered numerous accusations that Brussels and Berlin turn a blind eye to the Balkan nation’s rule of law problems.
In a sign that the tide could be turning, however, Gunther Krichbaum, a senior lawmaker from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) urged the EPP and the European Commission to pay closer attention to Bulgaria.
The chair of the Bundestag’s European affairs committee said: “We have to talk seriously with Boyko Borissov’s government, without any ifs and buts.”
“Bulgaria is meanwhile seen as the most corrupt state in Europe. That cannot be. These things are unacceptable,” Krichbaum told POLITICO in a telephone interview. “Bulgaria’s accession to the EU has been linked to clear commitments and expectations, and the citizens of Bulgaria are now being cheated of the fruits of EU membership.”
For almost two months, Bulgaria has faced daily demonstrations from tens of thousands of protesters who claim an oligarchic mafia has taken control of the nation through its influence over the judiciary, media and state security apparatus. A major new demonstration planned this Wednesday, called “the grand national uprising,” is expected to heap further pressure on Borissov’s government.
German Christian Democrats are viewed as supportive founding fathers of Borissov’s GERB party, and Bulgarians view the German leader as the foreign politician who could most easily destroy Borissov’s political capital if she were to turn against him.
Earlier this summer, Bulgarian protesters addressed the close ties between Merkel and Borissov with a banner captioned: “Mrs Merkel! Aren’t you ashamed of that corrupt guy?”
Krichbaum said the German chancellor could also raise the accusations by protesters in her discussions with Borissov.
“I’m not sitting in the government, so I can’t say what Merkel is exactly doing. But I would anticipate that these things play a role in her talks with Borissov.”
The EPP should also become active, he said:”I clearly see [EPP President] Donald Tusk as having the responsibility to conduct the decisive talks [with the Bulgarian government],” he said. “In view of current developments, more needs to happen.”
Krichbaum also called on the European Commission to probe the state of rule of law in Bulgaria and launch an infringement procedure against the country should concerns persist.
“Bulgaria must be put on the agenda. The accusations must be substantiated,” Krichbaum said. “It is the European Commission’s job, as the guardian of the treaties, to take action. If the Commission sees the accusations as proven, then infringement proceedings must be initiated.”
The German Social Democratic Party (SPD), which is governing in a coalition with Merkel’s CDU, has also criticized the Bulgarian government and has expressed solidarity with protesters in Sofia.
“We should pay more attention to states such as Bulgaria during the German presidency of the Council of the EU,” said Detlef Müller, the SPD’s deputy democracy policy spokesman in the Bundestag.
“I would like to see this issue raised by the German government at meetings of EU leaders or ministers. It is important that basic European principles are respected by all member states,” he added.
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