The European Commission has found Bulgarian and Greek plans to support the construction and operation of a natural gas interconnector to be in line with EU state aid rules. The project will contribute to the security and diversification of EU energy supplies without unduly distorting competition.
Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: "The new gas interconnector between Greece and Bulgaria will increase the security of energy supply and enhance competition, to the benefit of citizens in the region. We have approved the support measures to be granted by Bulgaria and Greece because they are limited to what is necessary to make the project happen and therefore are in line with our state aid rules."
The measures approved by the Commission will support the construction and operation of a 182 kilometres cross-border gas interconnector (called IGB) between Greece (Komotini) and Bulgaria (Stara Zagora). The gas interconnector is designed to transport 3 billion cubic metres/year (bcm/y) of natural gas from Greece to Bulgaria by 2021. A potential later phase of the project could increase this capacity to 5 bcm/y and allow physical reverse flow capacity from Bulgaria to Greece.
IGB will be owned by ICGB AD, a 50-50 joint venture between the IGI Poseidon consortium (which includes Edison of Italy and Greek gas incumbent DEPA) and BEH, the Bulgarian gas incumbent.
The total investment cost for the realization of the IGB interconnector amounts to €240 million. This will be financed through:
- A direct equity contribution of €46 million from the joint venture shareholders;
- a contribution of €45m from the European Energy Programme for Recovery (EEPR), which is centrally managed by the European Commission;
- a loan of €110 million granted by the European Investment Bank (EIB) to BEH (and subsequently passed-on to ICGB AD), and;
- a direct financial contribution of €39m from the Bulgarian state budget via the Bulgarian Operational Programme Innovation and Competitiveness 2014-2020 (OPIC).
Bulgaria and Greece notified the Commission of the following measures to support the investment, which involve State aid within the meaning of EU state aid rules:
- An unconditional state guarantee to be granted by the Bulgarian State to BEH to cover the €110m loan that the company will receive from the EIB. This guarantee will be granted to BEH free of charge.
- The €39m direct financial contribution by Bulgaria via the Bulgarian OPIC programme.
- A fixed corporate tax regime that will apply to ICGB AD for 25 years from the start of commercial operations and will be governed by an intergovernmental agreement between Bulgaria and Greece.
The Commission assessed these support measures under EU State aid rules, in particular its 2014 Guidelines on State Aid for Environmental Protection and Energy. The Commission found that:
- The project will contribute to further key strategic objectives of the EU, including the diversification of gas supply sources and increase the EU's security of gas supply;
- the aid measures are necessary, in the sense that the project would not be carried out absent the aid. In this respect, a financial analysis of the project carried out by the Commission has shown that recouping the investment costs exclusively from the tariffs charged to use the interconnector would not be feasible;
- the aid measures are proportionate and therefore limited to the minimum necessary. In particular, the Commission found that the support provided by the OPIC grant, the state guarantee and the fixed corporate tax regime does not go beyond what is necessary to trigger the investment (i.e., they will only cover the funding gap), and;
- the aid measures will not unduly distort competition. In this respect, under the rules in place, neither BEH in Bulgaria nor DEPA in Greece are allowed to book more than 40% of the capacity of the new interconnector at the entry points to Bulgaria and Greece, respectively. As a result, at least 60% of the new capacity will be open to competitors that want to sell gas in these markets.
The Commission therefore concluded that the Bulgarian and Greek support measures for the construction and operation of the IGB natural gas interconnector are in line with EU State aid rules and will contribute to the objectives of security of supply, diversification of energy sources and increased competition in EU energy markets.
The IGB has been included in the list of European Projects of Common Interest, given its strategic importance for the diversification of natural gas supplies into Eastern Europe through the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (at present 98% of gas imports in Bulgaria come from a single source). The IGB pipeline will connect the DESFA and TAP gas transmission systems in Greece with the gas transmission system in Bulgaria.
The IGB project's key strategic objectives and role in the South-Eastern European gas markets are the following:
- Enhanced security of gas supply (avoidance of gas disruptions). By securing added volumes, the project will double the entry capacity of Bulgaria and diversify entry routes to the South-Eastern European region;
- increased transit capacity to the South-Eastern European countries taking advantage of other interconnections with Romania and Serbia, and;
- diversification of gas imported by Bulgaria by additional supply sources from the Caspian region, Middle East, East Mediterranean and liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals (existing and new in Greece and/or Turkey).
In July 2018, the Commission granted the IGB project an exemption from the internal market rules for gas as regards unbundling, tariff regulation and third party access in line with the Gas Directive. Under the Commission Decision, neither BEH in Bulgaria nor DEPA in Greece are allowed to book more than 40% of the capacity of the new interconnector at the entry points to Bulgaria and Greece, respectively.
The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case numbers SA.51023 (Bulgaria) and SA.52049 (Greece) in the State Aid Register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News.
Kristian Vigenin: 'A semi-mafia model of government in Bulgaria must be overcome'
The current government in Bulgaria and the GERB party must be removed from power, says National Assembly of Bulgaria Vice President Kristian Vigenin (pictured). In this interview he drew parallels between the protests in Bulgaria and Belarus. Mr Vigenin pointed out that the current Prime Minister Boyko Borisov came to parliament only twice this year and his actions are unconstitutional,write Polina Demchenko and Vladyslav Grabovskyi.
In the Morning Block on the BNT TV channel you claimed you would become the “inner voice” of the protesters in parliament. What is this voice?
The main demands of the protest are the resignation of the Boyko Borisov government and the chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev, also the holding of early elections, which must be organized by the service government. We declared that we, as a party, as a parliamentary group, will be the voice of the protesters within parliament, and since the time we support their demands with the parliamentary instruments that we have at our disposal, we are trying to support the demands of the protest.
Mr. Vigenin, did you take part in the protest?
I and a lot of my colleagues are participating in the protest rather more than citizens. In fact, we act as a link between the protests on the streets by the people and the parliament. For the first time, a very broad form is demonstrated between representatives of different from each other, formations, which, together with the support of the president, want real changes in Bulgaria, that the motto passed through the first protest, is relevant to this day, the forces of ”Mutri” are out!”.
(It is worth noting that the credo said by Kristian Vigenin, is translated as “Bandits out!”; or “Down with the bandits!”; The word “mutra” has its own meaning in Bulgarian, which can be roughly translated as a classic bandit from the nineties.)
We believe that this semi-mafia model of government that has been built in Bulgaria, the model that the mafia controls all institutions, must be overcome, and for this to happen, the current government and the GERB party must be removed from power. This is the overall picture.
And if the GERB party does not stop existing, does not resign? What the reaction of citizens might be to your mind?
The protests have been going on for three month, people do not get tired of protesting. It is more and more difficult to hold on to the authorities, because apparently it is closing in on the defensive, in isolation. At the same time, it is becoming more and more difficult for them in parliament, as we, as the second largest parliamentary group, decided not to register, in fact not to participate, but rather to sabotage the activities of the National Assembly.
Several times it was not possible to recruit the required number of deputies by the beginning of the meeting, since at least 121 people’s representatives were presented to attend. And they are increasingly counting on political forces. For example, on September 16, the parliament, after all, began working, as we gathered. But even then, the president’s activities were on the edge.
We were here, but did not register, and one of the other political groups did not register neither. In such an environment, when the protests outside and the fickle work of the Assembly inside, it is believed that the GERB will not survive for long. But we still have to wait and see the outcome. In addition, the politician added that today the opinion in parliament is very dependent on one small formation, whose chairman was sentenced to a 4-year term in parliament for extortion and racketeering. This sets the mood for itself in parliament.
The Bulgarian president said that the current Cabinet of Ministers is the role of the Prime Minister’s attendants. Do you agree with this statement?
In fact, this is so, I said that the management of the GERB party has turned into an appendage of the executive branch. Parliament executes everything that the government orders, specifically the prime minister, the chairman of the GERB party. At the same time, the prime minister does not come to report to parliament.
The questions that we introduce into the quality of control in relation to it are deviation. This year, Boyko Borisov came to parliament only twice, although the prime ministers came to the country literally in a week and answered questions from the people’s representatives. Borisov’s actions are unconstitutional, since the supreme body in Bulgaria is the National Assembly.
And how does he remain prime minister without fulfilling his duties?
This is how he understands his responsibilities and does not think that he should notify the Bulgarian parliament. Usually, when there are comparatively important questions, Boyko Borisov sends someone from the deputy prime ministers, but he thinks that he is “above that”.
One gets the impression that the so-called “game” is designed to ensure that President Rumen Radev is re-elected. Is it so?
The President is still the most popular political figure in Bulgaria. Protests began in defense of the presidential institution when the chief prosecutor sent his subordinates to the presidency. People perceived this as an encroachment on the presidential institution and an encroachment on the president himself.
Rumen Radev is not shy and not afraid to point out the mistakes of the Prime Minister and the executive branch in general, to point out problems in the system. Of course, those whose mistakes he points out do not like this. They are doing everything they can to push him into the corner of the political arena, but they fail. People, including representatives of right-wing political formations, see hope in him. They believe that he can overcome this oligarchic, mafia model of government in Bulgaria.
How can you characterize the system that is currently built in Bulgaria?
I think that the citizens of Ukraine would easily understand it, since I see that the Ukrainian and Bulgarian systems of government are similar. I am not talking about any specific political situations in Ukraine, but I am talking about the fact that in fact big business and oligarchy control management. I believe that this hinders the development of the country, and we must get rid of this.
In Ukraine, in 2014, Kiev hosted the Revolution of Dignity - Euromaidan. It all started with the same peaceful rallies and protests, and ended with the “Heavenly Hundred”. How to prevent such a sad outcome? After all, judging by the mood of your protesters, they are not going to retreat.
Similarities can be found in both situations. But, I do not think that we have the prerequisites for the escalation of protests. I believe that the fact that Bulgaria is a part of the European Union, the long traversed path in democratization, and the establishment of institutions will help us cope without violence. But one cannot deny the fact that one day violence happened in our country, first of all, by the police, which, in truth, was unexpected for the citizens of Bulgaria.
I believe the violence was deliberately and deliberately provoked by the government. They did this in order to scare the protesters and remove the barriers and barricades that were built at several intersections in the center of Sofia. Of course, here in Sofia, the protests are not as large-scale as they were in Kiev in 2014. The tents, which were dismantled by the police, gave additional motivation and confidence to people that they can achieve something more. Now these barriers are gone. Large protests are organized once a week, the organizers call them “People’s Uprising”.
In general, small promotions take place every day. So, by 7-8 pm, people gather in front of the “National Assembly” building. The next big protest is “People’s Assembly” is scheduled for September 22, the Independence Day of Bulgaria.
Thus, symbolically, people want to show that they can be independent from the mafia and “mutras” (bandits).
Vigenin explained what “mutra” is groups of so-called “bandits” appeared in the early 90s, in Bulgaria. These guys were strong and armed, so they were called “mutra”. Over time, they faded into the background, economic and political life improved. But the Bulgarian prime minister, according to Vigenin, takes its roots precisely from those “dashing” 90s. His past was questionable, which is why protesters call him “mutra”.
As a rule, a leader surrounds himself with people who are close in spirit, those with whom he is used to work. Boyko Borisov did just that. He and his adherents have built a system in which the “mutras” have returned, but not with weapons and bats, but with the mechanisms of state power, but they are doing the same. This both outrages people and makes them protest.
How do you see the development of events?
If we follow normal political logic, then it is necessary that the Prime Minister resigns. He was supposed to do it back in July. In this case, the political environment in which we live in the following way - everything depends on the the prime minister. At the moment he is not interested in what is good for the state, he is not interested in what is good for his own party, but rather he is trying to guarantee himself that he will survive.
Speaking about the word “will survive” you need to understand that it is not only about the political situation, but also about personal security after he leaves power. Borisov will continue to look for such guarantees of security for himself, but no one gives him such guarantees, so he continues to remain at his post and continues to persist as long as it is convenient for him. This is how I personally see the situation; it is quite difficult to understandwhat exactly is going on in the head of the Prime Minister. It all depends on his personal decision, since in the GERB party all decisions are made by him alone.
You said that you often attend protest actions. Can you share your impression of what you see there? What kind of people are there, with what ideas did they come to protest?
Yes, different people come to protest, talk to me. Those who sympathize with us, the socialists, are also protesting, there are also representatives of the right-wing parties, with whom we are political opponents. It so happened that we ended up on the same side of the barricades to speak. As President Rumen Radev said: “We are not talking about the left versus the right, we are talking about respectable people against the mafia.”
And among the venerable people were socialists, right-wingers, and liberals, and this really feels like something new in Bulgarian politics. Of course, the BSP party also made mistakes in the past. But people from every party, adherents of every political leader, are ready to sacrifice, help in overcoming the current government and its legacy. They are ready to set a new course for Bulgaria, as for a free, real European state, in which there will be freedom of speech, freedom of the media - these are things that we are increasingly lacking.
Kristian Vigenin recalled the year 1989, when the leader of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, Todor Zhivkov, was removed. This event marked the beginning of the “Gentle Revolution” in the country. Vigenin was then 14-15 years old, he had quite vivid impressions from that year.
There is a feeling that everything is repeated. The feeling of lack of freedom, and the desire for real democracy in Bulgaria, that young people need something different, which their parents could not achieve. As if history had made a circle and the year is 1989 again, which in itself is a rather difficult diagnosis of what happened during those years in Bulgaria. And this is all disappointing, because of the situation in our country that is the part of the European Union.
How does the European Union react to what is happening in your country?
The European Union and European leaders are simply silent. This week there will be a discussion in the European Parliament about what is happening in Bulgaria, after three months the people began to protest.
In conjunction, protests are taking place in Belarus. Do you see similarities in these situations?
Maybe, the protests in Bulgaria has a milder nature, but there are similarities between what is happening here and what is happening in Belarus. Something funny (curious ?) happened. The Prime Minister of Bulgaria, in an attempt to buy himself political time, proposed to develop a new constitution for the country. This is a way to start a process that will allow him to stay in power for a few more months. Literally a day or two later, Lukashenko proposed the same thing in Belarus. This further reinforced the impression that authoritarian leaders have the same set of tools and use them in the same way.
The opinions expressed in the above article are those of the authors alone and do not represent any opinions on the part of EU Reporter.
Commission complains about lack of results in the fight against corruption in #Bulgaria
#Bulgaria - 'We don't want to be under the Mafia and corruption' Minekov
Ahead of a debate on the rule of law in Bulgaria (5 October), protestors and MEPs gathered outside the parliament to call for systemic change and new elections in Bulgaria. EU Reporter spoke to some of those involved. Professor Vladislav Minekov, has been labelled as one of the ‘Poisonous Trio’ by the oligarch-owned Bulgarian media. Asked what was keeping protestors on the streets ninety days after the first impromptu protest on 9 July, he said that Bulgarians don’t want to live under the Mafia. Minekov welcomed that the European Parliament was grappling with this important question, saying that Bulgarians had the impression that the EU and the world was overlooking what was happening in Bulgaria.
One of six MEPs we interviewed, Clare Daly MEP (Ireland), compared the current Bulgarian government to vampires feeding off EU money, “sucking the lifeblood out of Bulgarian society,” she said that the European Peoples’ Party, in particular, had protected Borissov’s government for too long and that it was time to face up to the blatant corruption and failure to adhere to the rule of law. 'Brussels for Bulgaria' has organized weekly protests in Brussels since the protests began in July.
One of the organizers, Elena Bojilova, said that Bulgarians abroad want to show solidarity with their fellow countrymen: “We've had people join us from other cities from Ghent, from Antwerp.” Bojilova explained that this phenomenon was also occurring in many other countries, “in Vienna, in London, in Canada in the United States, other European capitals. The fact that we are not physically in Bulgaria does not prevent us from supporting the efforts of our countrymen, and we fully support their demands which are for the resignation of the government, resignation of the Prosecutor General, reform rule of law and basically cleaning up the
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