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‘All countries have some corruption, but #Bulgaria has become a mafia state’ Yoncheva MEP

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Bulgarian Prime Minister, Boyko Borissov

EU Reporter spoke to Elena Yoncheva MEP about the continuing protests taking place in Bulgaria. Yoncheva says that while in every country there is mafia and some corruption, over the last ten years, Bulgaria has become a mafia state. 

Successive scandals and an obvious deterioration of the rule of law have failed to move European leaders into open condemnation of developments in Bulgaria. Yoncheva’s views - shared by protestors - appears to contradict the findings of the European Commission in its ‘Cooperation and Verification Mechanism’ (CVM) report of 2019 . In the report, the Commission considered that Bulgaria had met benchmarks related to the fight against organized crime, ‘reflecting the positive developments in the institutional environment and track record over the years’ and that ‘developments since November 2018 have not raised new relevant issues’. 

When Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union in 2007, it was recognized that there were shortcomings in the areas of judicial reform, the fight against corruption, and in the case of Bulgaria, in particular, a failure to effectively fight organized crime. The Commission's most recent evaluation of the situation found that there has been sufficient progress to meet Bulgaria’s commitments made at the time of its accession to the EU. 

However, Yoncheva paints a different picture.  She says that with every year the country is becoming poorer. Foreign direct investment has collapsed, as the country is seen to have a weak judicial system that won’t protect investors. Powerful oligarchs seem to have a hold on most of the economy. Education and health systems are also in decline, with people feeling a general drop in their standard of living. 

Yoncheva says that people have become progressively more disgusted. This is reflected in over a month's demonstrations against the government. The tipping point was early July, when Bulgarians finally took to the streets when the Chief Prosecutor, Ivan Geshev, ordered armed security officers to raid the offices of Bulgaria’s President and detained the anti-corruption secretary and security adviser for questioning. The President Rumen Radev has called for the resignation of the entire government, including Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. 

The protests were also provoked by former justice minister Hristo Ivanov, of the ‘Yes, Bulgaria!’ party filming his arrival on the beach outside the residence of former politician Dogan on the Black Sea coast. People were incensed that the public beach had become the private reserve of Dogan who enjoys the protection of state security officers. It was also found that a leading oligarch Peevski - who owns a large number of media outlets - has had to give up state protection officers, following the public outrage. The episode resulted in the resignation of the top general for state security. Ivanov has claimed in an interview with Politico that: “Borissov is king by day, Peevski is king by night.”

According to Transparency International's 'Corruption Perceptions Index', which scores and ranks countries on how the country's public sector is perceived by experts and business executives, Bulgaria has the lowest score in the EU, below Romania and Hungary. 

Transparency International 'Corruption Perceptions Index'

When I asked Yoncheva if the protests had received broad support among Bulgarians she said that those demonstrating had come from all sides: left, right and center. She said that according to polls, more than 70% of Bulgarians support the demonstrations, but that many people were still afraid to demonstrate, or were worried that they could lose their job. She said that she was confident that the government would have to resign; even if it doesn’t happen immediately, she forecasts that it will happen in September or October. 

Yoncheva does not underestimate the challenges that lie ahead, while she says that the government must resign, the process of reform will be difficult. She says that Bulgaria will have to start rebuilding its democracy. Borissov has been in power since 2009 and the previous socialist-led government also had corruption problems. Yoncheva says the support of the European Parliament and the European Commission will be important in this process. At this moment, there is no sign that  Boyko Borissov and his Chief Prosecutor are willing to give up power.

Borissov’s party GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria) is part of the European People’s Party (EPP), the group appear unwilling to question the probity of the current administration. In 2006, a US diplomatic telegram revealed by Wikileaks claimed that Borissov "is involved in serious criminal activities and maintains close ties with Lukoil and the Russian embassy". His close links to Lukoil have raised concerns about possible links to properties in Barcelona. Spanish authorities are thought to be investigating these accusations. 

Yoncheva points out that the leader of the European People’s Party group in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber MEP went as far as to congratulated Borissov on this fight against corruption, she said that this was considered a cynical joke in Bulgaria. Weber’s statement, issued on 10 July, reads:

"The EPP Group fully supports the Bulgarian government of Boyko Borrisov and its [...] fight against corruption and the progress that is being made to join the Eurozone.

[...]

"Any political actions that would undermine the independence of the judiciary and obstruct the fight against corruption, would endanger the success of Bulgaria in Europe and undo the concrete progress and support for Bulgaria we have seen in recent years," said Manfred Weber, chairman of the EPP Group. 

The fact that European Funds are further entrenching the government's powers of patronage mean that Bulgarians have become skeptical about the European Union, once seen as a bridge to a better and brighter future.  Yoncheva says that the European Union and the European Commission should do much more.

She has also been the target of Borissov. In April 2019, before European Parliamentary elections, Borissov appeared to be taking action on the misuse of European funds.  It seems that the objective of the investigation was an attempt to damage the prospects of Yoncheva. In a recording, thought by some to have been recorded and circulated by people acting on behalf of Vasil ‘The Skull’ Bozhkov (described by the US State Department as "the most infamous gangster in Bulgaria" in a leaked cable published by Wikileaks) a voice that sounds like Borissov says that even though it may damage some of his allies he “will burn everything to burn Elena Yoncheva from here”. There appears to be some interest in investigating the recording, by Bulgarian authorities, but only as an illegal wiretap - rather than for the contents of the recording.

We asked the European Commission spokesperson service about the latest developments and if they were still satisfied that Bulgaria was respecting the commitments to put in place procedures concerning the accountability of the Chief Prosecutor, given recent events. The Commission replied that their stance remained that progress had been made by Bulgaria and that this would be sufficient to meet the commitments made at the time of Bulgaria's accession to the European Union. They added that the new rule of law mechanism will give the commission the means to pursue work with Bulgaria on any further necessary reforms.

 

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Dead mayoral candidate gets landslide win in Romanian village

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Death didn’t stop Ion Aliman in his bid for a third term as mayor of Deveselu, a village of around 3,000 people in southern Romania. Aliman won the local election by a landslide, with 64% of votes cast, despite dying 10 days before the vote, on 17 September, from COVID-19 complications, writes Cristian Gherasim.

According to electoral officials, his name was already printed on the voting ballots and couldn’t be changed before voting took place.

The deputy-mayor, Nicolae Dobre, is not surprised by the surreal outcome saying that the former mayor did everything for the community, he deserved this victory and that people didn’t trust other candidates.

Following the results, people gathered on Monday at the grave of the newly elected mayor to light candles and pay their respects on the day Ion Aliman would have turned 57.

The grave site election celebration was shared on social media, as dozens of villagers turned up for the occasion.

The procedure now requires that local council members appoint a deputy-mayor who takes over the duties of the mayor until new elections take place. The incumbent deputy-mayor, Nicolae Dobre, announced his intention to run.

Mr. Aliman’s victory is not a big reason to celebrate though for his former party, as the Social Democrats lost key municipalities and counties in these local elections. Center-right parties made significant gains in former social democrat strongholds, running both separately and as an alliance depending on the region.

Deveselu is known for housing one of the key components of the NATO defence system, employing Aegis Ballistic Missiles, able to intercept and defend against short to intermediate-range missile attacks.

Romania has so far reported more than 125,000 coronavirus cases and 4,800 deaths, with daily infection rates on the rise. Prior to election week, Romania recorded 1,767 new Covid-19 infections over a 24-hour span, the highest number since late February, when the pandemic started in the south-eastern European nation.

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Russian oil industry - innovative approach to talent development for industrial sustainable development

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Russian oil workers celebrated their professional holiday in September. Oil and Gas Industry Workers day was established 55 years ago in the USSR as a sign of appreciation for the specialists successfully satisfied both the needs of home and active front lines in WW2 times and made a significant contribution in post-war reconstruction. People continue to be the main asset for oil companies in Russia and abroad.

Russian oil and gas industry is renowned worldwide for its high professionalism and dedication”, - OPEC’s Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo noted in his letter to the Minister of Energy of the Russian Federation Alexander Novak in honor of the day of workers of the oil and gas industry. “Oil workers are unsung heroes whose tireless efforts enable OPEC and our outside partners to make informed decisions. We must never take their work for granted,” – he added.

According to International Labor Organization reports, the world of work is currently undergoing profound changes. Digitalization, changing demographics and a transition to a green economy are setting up the new trends – automation and robotics that reduce the need for labor, herewith the ever raising competence requirements for the current personnel. Given this, each professional oil worker – in a very real sense – worths his weight in gold by being able to deliver high performance in current changing conditions.

ILO highlighted three main goals to support oil workers and other working men around the globe: increasing investment in people’s skills, strengthening labor guarantees and expanding social dialogue.

In the words of Anatoly Moskalenko, Vice President for Human Resources Management and Social Policy of PJSC LUKOIL, corporate programs fully comply with ILO’s vision: “Today, the oil and gas sector is facing new challenges that can significantly change professional areas of activity and, therefore, specifics of HR management and social work. In 2019 the Company launched a personnel performance and efficiency management system, based on the principles of modern leadership philosophy.” The new approach places a greater emphasis on the individual as the key driver behind achievement of the Company’s strategic goals.

PJSC LUKOIL President Vagit Alekperov has decided to begin implementing leadership and engagement tools to facilitate a reliable and sustainable future for LUKOIL. Forward-looking changes are designed to ensure that the Company maintains its leading position in the industry.

This will require changes in the system used to make decisions, people management, training, motivation, and overall performance and efficiency assessments. Goal management, effective and inspiring interaction between managers and employees, constant feedback, and a modern system of productivity and performance management in a unified digital environment.

The first step has been to elaborate the project groups in the Exploration and Production business segment. This group of employees ensures that effective solutions are found to engineering and technical problems, while achieving operational and investment efficiency when implementing major and high-priority projects, both in Russia and abroad with Company’s and global experience and best practices are taken into account. This new approach will be further distributed to the corporate vertical system, backed by the constantly renewing regulatory framework.

LUKOIL employed over 105 thousand people, 41% female, which are more than 26% of managerial personnel. Company applies uniform principles for the talent development and respects personnel’s wish to achieve work-life balance. In LUKOIL Group entities parental leave is granted to both women and men.

Company endeavors the implementation of harmonized standards to working with our employees in all countries and regions where we operate, taking into account local specifics and features. LUKOIL’s basic approach is to employ the best professionals, while in foreign countries company strives to employ as many local professionals as possible, and provide them with employee training where necessary.

Company strives to maintain an attractive employee remuneration system to facilitate social stability and to enhance the quality of life of our employees and their families. In 2019, the average salary in LUKOIL Group’s Russian entities in significant regions of operation was at least 1.5 times higher than the average salary in the same regions. Voluntary health insurance programs cover over 90% of employees at Russian entities, over 1.4 thousand employees participate in the housing program.

Constant and focused talent development programs aimed at full professional fulfillment, while maintaining the social guarantees, helps LUKOIL to keep employee turnover at insignificant 7.5%.

New approach towards corporate policies, compliant with the actual social needs and current technological development level, ongoing partnership with ILO allow LUKOIL to build up the solutions that would become referential either for Russian oil market and global business society.

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Latest Eurobarometer survey (July-August): Economic situation is EU citizens' top concern in light of the coronavirus pandemic

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In a troubled period marked by the coronavirus pandemic, trust in the EU remains stable and Europeans trust the EU to make the right decisions in response to the pandemic in the future. In the new Standard Eurobarometer survey released today, European citizens identify the economic situation, the state of member states' public finances and immigration as the three top concerns at EU level. The economic situation is also the main concern at national level, followed by health and unemployment.

In the new Eurobarometer conducted in July and August, concern about the economic situation is reflected in the perception of the current state of the economy. 64% of Europeans think that the situation is ‘bad' and 42% of Europeans think that their country's economy will recover from the adverse effects of the coronavirus outbreak ‘in 2023 or later'.

Europeans are divided (45% ‘satisfied' vs 44% ‘not satisfied') regarding the measures taken by the EU to fight the pandemic. However, 62% say they trust the EU to make the right decisions in the future, and 60% remain optimistic about the future of the EU.

  1. Trust and image of the EU

Trust in the European Union has remained stable since autumn 2019 at 43%, despite variations of public perceptions during the pandemic. Trust in national governments and parliaments has increased (40%, +6 percentage points and 36%, +2 respectively).

In 15 Member States, a majority of respondents says they trust the EU, with the highest levels observed in Ireland (73%), Denmark (63%) and Lithuania (59%). The lowest levels of trust in the EU are observed in Italy (28%), France (30%) and Greece (32%).

The proportion of respondents with a positive image of the EU is the same as that with a neutral image (40%). 19% of respondents have a negative image of the EU (-1 percentage points).

In 13 EU member states, a majority of respondents has a positive image of the EU, with the highest proportions observed in Ireland (71%), Poland and Portugal (both 55%). In 13 other member states, the EU conjures up a predominantly neutral image for respondents, with the highest proportions observed in Malta (56%), Spain, Latvia and Slovenia (all 48%).

  1. Main concerns at EU and national level

Citizens mentioned the economic situation as the most pressing issue facing the EU - over one-third (35%) of all respondents, a strong increase of 16 percentage points since autumn 2019, and rise from third to first concern. Concern about the economic situation has not been this high since spring 2014.

Europeans are also increasingly concerned about the state of member states' public finances (23%, +6 percentage points, the highest level since spring 2015), which moves from fifth to second place on a par with immigration (23%, -13 percentage points), the latter now being at the lowest level since autumn 2014.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, health (22%, new item) is the  fourth most mentioned concern at EU level. The issue of the environment and climate change has lost ground, down 8 percentage points to 20%, followed by unemployment (17%, +5 percentage points).

Similarly, the economic situation (33%, +17 percentage points) has overtaken health as the most important issue at national level, rising from seventh to first position. Although in second position, health has had a notable increase in mentions since autumn 2019 (31%, +9 percentage points), taking it to its highest ever level over the past six years.

Unemployment has also increased considerably in importance (28%, +8 percentage points), followed by rising prices/inflation/cost of living (18%, -2 percentage points), the environment and climate change (14%, -6 percentage points) and government debt (12%, +4 percentage points). Mentions of immigration (11%, -5 percentage points), are at their lowest level for the past six years.

  1. The current economic situation

Since autumn 2019, the proportion of Europeans who think that the current situation of their national economy is ‘good' (34%, -13 percentage points) has declined considerably, while the proportion of respondents who judge this situation to be ‘bad' has increased sharply (64%, +14 percentage points).

At national level, a majority of respondents in 10 countries says that the national economic situation is good (down from 15 in autumn 2019). The proportion of respondents who say the situation of their national economy is good ranges from 83% in Luxembourg to 9% in Greece.

  1. The coronavirus pandemic and public opinion in the EU

Europeans are divided on the measures taken by the EU institutions to fight the coronavirus outbreak (45% ‘satisfied' vs 44% ‘not satisfied'). However, a majority of respondents in 19 Member States is satisfied with the measures taken by the European Union institutions to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The highest positive figures are found in Ireland (71%); Hungary, Romania and Poland (all 60%). In seven countries, a majority of respondents is ‘not satisfied', especially in Luxembourg (63%), Italy (58%), Greece and Czechia (both 55%) and Spain (52%). In Austria, equal proportions of respondents are satisfied, and not satisfied (both 47%).

However, more than six Europeans in ten trust the EU to make the right decisions in the future (62%). The most frequently mentioned priorities for the EU's response to the coronavirus pandemic are: establish a strategy for facing a similar crisis in the future and develop financial means to find a treatment or vaccine (each 37%). 30% think that developing a European health policy should be a priority.

Europeans' personal experiences of confinement measures were very diverse. Overall, close to three Europeans in ten say that it was fairly easy to cope with (31%), while a quarter say it was fairly difficult to cope with (25%). Finally, 30% say that it was ‘both easy and difficult to cope with'.

  1. Key policy areas

Asked about the objectives of the European Green Deal, Europeans continue identifying ‘developing renewable energy' and ‘fighting against plastic waste and leading on the issue of single-use of plastic' as the top priorities. More than one third think the top priority should be supporting EU farmers (38%) or promoting the circular economy (36%). Just over three in ten think reducing energy consumption (31%) should be the top priority.

Support for the Economic and Monetary Union and for the euro remains high, with 75% of respondents in the eurozone in favour of the EU's single currency. In the EU27 as a whole, support for the eurozone has increased to 67% (+5).

  1. EU citizenship and European democracy

A majority of people in 26 EU member states (except Italy) and 70% across the EU feel that they are citizens of the EU. At a national level the highest scores are observed in Ireland and Luxembourg (both 89%), Poland (83%), Slovakia and Germany (both 82%), Lithuania (81%), Hungary, Portugal and Denmark (all 80%).

A majority of Europeans (53%) say they are satisfied with the way democracy works in the EU. The proportion of respondents who are ‘not satisfied' has increased, by 3 percentage points since autumn 2019 to 43%.

  1. Optimism for the future of the EU

Finally, in this troubled period, 60% of Europeans say they are optimistic about the future of the EU. The highest scores for optimism are observed in Ireland (81%), Lithuania and Poland (both 75%) and Croatia (74%). The lowest levels of optimism are seen in Greece (44%) and Italy (49%), where pessimism outweighs optimism, and France, where opinion is evenly divided (49% vs 49%).

Background

The ‘Summer 2020 – Standard Eurobarometer' (EB 93) was conducted face-to-face and exceptionally completed with online interviews between 9 July and 26 August 2020, across the 27 EU member states, in the United Kingdom and in the candidate countries[1]. 26,681 interviews were conducted in the 27 member states.

More information

Standard Eurobarometer 93

[1] The 27 European Union (EU) Member States, United Kingdom, five candidate countries (Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey) and the Turkish Cypriot Community in the part of the country that is not controlled by the government of the Republic of Cyprus.

 

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