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EU Cohesion policy: Commission supports the development of the Bulgarian research and innovation ecosystem

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On 14 January, the Commission published a set of strategic recommendations to 14 newly created research and innovation (R&I) centres, co-funded by the EU Cohesion policy in Bulgaria. The recommendations aim at improving the management and helping the centres reach financial sustainability. They were elaborated by a team of internationally renowned experts during 1.5-year-long fieldwork, coordinated by the Joint Research Centre, as well as through exchanges with peers from Spain, Lithuania and Czechia.

They will support the Bulgarian authorities and researchers in strengthening the country's R&I ecosystem, building up capacity for transfer and dissemination of knowledge, and strengthening the cooperation between research institutions and businesses in areas like green and digital transitions as well as in advanced medicine. Cohesion and Reforms Commissioner Elisa Ferreira (pictured) said: “Thanks to EU support, these Centres will provide scientific infrastructure and equipment, making them attractive for young Bulgarian researchers. I urge all actors involved to make use of the experts' work, laying the ground for an efficient and modern research and innovation system.”

Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel said: “The EU's investment in the 14 Centres of Competence and Centres of Excellence has a great potential for transformation of the country's economy and its integration in Global Value Chains. I am confident that the findings of the JRC report will be well received by the Centres, and that the government, academia and industry stakeholders will take action to promptly implement its recommendations.”

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The initiative has been launched in 2019 and will be extended to other European countries. The Commission is also assisting Member States and regions in designing and implementing their smart specialisation strategies and through the smart specialisation platform. The EU is currently investing €160 million in the centres, in the framework of the 2014-2020 Bulgarian ‘Science and Education for Smart Growth' programme. In 2021-2027 Bulgaria will receive more than €10 billion under Cohesion policy, with a substantial part dedicated to supporting innovation and competitiveness and green and digital transitions.

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Caretaker Bulgarian president conceals ecological disaster in the Black Sea

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There is criminal inaction and incompetence in Bulgaria, citizens and the media do the work of the government. A ship transporting nitrogen fertilisers Vera SU stuck on rocks off Bulgarian Black Sea coast on 20. September, not far from Kavarna. The vessel is under the Panamanian flag and sailed from Ukraine to the Bulgarian port of Varna. Check up in the Equasis system indicates that it is owned and managed by based in Turkey companies. According to experts, the most likely cause of the accident was human error.   

No casualties have occurred among the crew, which consists of Turkish and Georgian citizens. There is no fuel or waste spill in conjunction with the incident, according to the initial information of the Bulgarian authorities. The ship was guarded by Border Police and it was closely examined the crew not to leave. And there was nothing to suggest that such an incident could show the emasculation of the Bulgarian caretaker government, appointed by President Rumen Radev. Whether due to incompetence or simple negligence, for days no one paid attention to the cargo ship loaded with nitrogen fertilisers stranded off the shores of the National Archaeological Reserve Yailata.

Even as early as 21 September, it was known that there were holes in the hull of the vessel, and there were 20 tons of fuel and 3 000 tons of nitrogen fertiliser - carbamide on board. But the institutions only announced that the ship was in stable condition and there was no danger of fuel spill. Everyone was silent about the spill of nitrogen fertilisers in the sea, while fishermen and locals were worried about an environmental disaster. However, no ministry took any action. Instead of unshipping it, they tied it with ropes to the nearby rock to strengthen it.

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The civil eco-association “Let's Save Coral” published photos, which clearly showed that the ship had several holes, from which there was a spill. Probably large part of the cargo fell into the sea, environmentalists suggest. They never received any responses by the state authorities. The answers were given by a citizen - the former military diver, owner of a diving school, Nayden Nedev. Five days after the incident, he made an inspection independently from the institutions. And he alarmed: fertilisers are leaking into the sea. He even suggested how the unload the ship through mobile boats.

Nedev’s findings were released by the media. It became clear that despite assurances from the caretaker government that everything was under control, there was a spill. And namely spill of the most concentrated nitrogen fertilisers.

The Ministry of Environment and Water transferred the responsibility to the shipowner and the insurer, and Minister Assen Lichev assured that the sea water does not deviate from the norms. Pressed by media publications and public pressure, it was only on the sixth day that Transport Minister Hristo Alexiev signed an order for state structures to begin “immediate actions to release the stranded ship Vera SU”.

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Although the owners of 53 fishing vessels from the Black Sea Sunrise Association have declared their willingness to participate in the operation of unloading and drawing out the cargo ship “Vera Su”, the caretaker government has created enormous scandal.

And it would have remained hidden, and the Black Sea “fed” with 3 000 tons of carbamide, if there was not the camera of one media - Maritime.bg. On the night of 27 September, the fertiliser overload began. Livestreaming on Facebook of the media showed how in fact at least 40% of the cargo was dumped into the sea. The video went viral on social media and other medias, and apparent incompetence forced the caretaker government to seek justification. A scapegoat was found in the person of the director of the Maritime Administration, Captain Zhivko Petrov. The transport minister even suspected sabotage, but assured that several action plans had been prepared and the rescue of the ship had been ensured. And the ministries have started waiting for a “window” in which the weather will allow them to implement them, but there has not been such window up to this day.

Until now, the government of Bulgarian president Rumen Radev has not even sought assistance from the European institutions. At the same time, he makes meaningless statements, briefings and vain assurances. Interdepartmental meetings set out measures to release the stranded ship. Meanwhile, Bulgarian authorities have restricted access to the reserve area for media and visitors so that no one has visual access to the ship.

18 days after it ran aground off the shores of the nature reserve, the ship has visibly begun to sink. While the Minister of Transport was justifying himself with European law, he still had to admit that the condition of “VERA SU” was critical and the vessel was sinking. The Minister of Ecology continues to assure that there is no danger of pollution, even if all the cargo goes to sea.

Denitsa Sacheva, former Minister of Labour and Social Policy and deputy of GERB in the 45th and 46th National Assembly, alerted about the problem and the inaction of the institutions in the first days. „In the beginning, the cargo from the ship was a threat. Now the Ministry of Environment and Water claims the opposite without a study of the substance. The analysis would take maximum one day. In the end, it will be beneficial for the environment for the ship to sink”, she said. According to her, the lack of the most basic actions is indicative of the level of government not only in this crisis situation, but for the level of governing in general.

The Bulgarian EPP member of the European Parliament Emil Radev asked the European Commission whether the Bulgarian government has activated the Protection Mechanism, which allows to request support in a crisis situation from our partners in the EU.

What will be the fate of the ship and its cargo, what damage will do the sinking of 3 000 tons of carbamide in the Black Sea to the ecosystem, fisheries and tourism in the region, which provide livelihoods for tens of thousands of people - are the questions to which the caretaker government gives no answers so far. Because they will shine the huge crime that the interim government appointed by President Rumen Radev committed against the Black Sea and the people in the region.

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The re-election of pro-Russian General Radev as President of Bulgaria is threatened by professor of Latin studies

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The re-election of pro-Russian General Radev as President of Bulgaria turned out to be highly questionable after an initiative committee around the country’s pro-European right-wing forces nominated the Rector of Sofia University Prof. Anastas Gerdjikov.

The presidential elections, that will be held on 14 November, together with the parliamentary elections, were considered until recently by analysts to be foregone conclusion in favor of the current head of state Rumen Radev.

However, the inclusion of Professor Gerdjikov in the campaign returned the intrigue because of the obvious changes that his choice would bring. Gerdjikov graduated Humboldt University in Germany with master’s degree in Classical Philology and delivers lecture courses on the Latin language at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”.

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He is fluent in Latin, French, German, English and Russian. He is Chairman of the Council of Rectors of Higher Education Institutions in the Republic of Bulgaria. He was manager of the Scientific Research Fund in Bulgaria, as well as the deputy minister of education and science. The biggest difference between him and General Radev, however, is that the professor is esemplastic, dialogic, compromise in his actions and most of all - with clear European orientation.

The appearance of a strong competitor on the political stage apparently irritated the current president and he allowed himself to make clearly sexist comment to the journalists in Sofia. When asked about the inclusion of Prof. Gerdjikov in the elections, President Radev answered with only one sentence, directed against his main political opponent - the former Prime Minister of Bulgaria Boyko Borissov.

“Five years ago, Borissov hid himself behind Tsacheva’s skirt, now he is hiding behind the rector’s toga,” said Radev impatiently , and ran away from the journalists.

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According to political analysts in Bulgaria, the head of state has been obviously taken out of his comfort zone and such hysterical comments are a clear sign that he cannot control not only his anger but also his panic.  

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Traffic chaos unfolding at Romanian–Bulgarian border

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Bulgarian truck drivers are protesting at the border crossing over harsh traffic conditions. Bulgarian Transport Minister Gheorghi Todorov said that he will reach out to the Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean, for assistance in faster processing traffic entering Romania. There are complaints that truck drivers have to wait up to 30 hours to cross the Border Checkpoint, writes Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent.

Currently, there is no official information regarding why truck drivers have to wait 30 hours to cross an internal border of the European Union, a press release of the Chamber of Road Transporters shows.

There are several reasons for the increase of traffic at the Romanian Bulgarian border. As an internal EU border, the crossing should just a few minutes, but the border authorities carry out thorough checks due to increased immigration. This increases the time for checking a truck, border guards told the press. Each truck is checked with a carbon dioxide detector. If the amount of CO2 detected is too large, the vehicle is searched to see if there are any immigrants hiding illegally in trucks while drivers are resting.

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According to Bulgarian transport authorities another reason for the increased traffic is the return of workers to Western Europe and in addition to that, Albanians take a detour through Bulgaria in order to avoid crossing Serbia which has increased road taxes greatly in the last month.

Also Bulgaria entered the yellow zone of countries with a high epidemiological risk of coronavirus transmission and all those who come from this state are quarantined if they are not vaccinated or if they do not have a negative PCR test. Thus Romanians vacationing in Bulgaria tried to make their way back to their home country before new restrictions were enforced as to avoid quarantine.

In the last few days of August approximately 1.2 million people and over 300,000 vehicles crossed the border.

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Even the entry point into Bulgaria from Romania was not without issues. Many tourists were taken by surprise. With waiting queues stretching for over 5 km, vacation goers into Bulgaria were caught off guard.

Romanians can enter Bulgaria after showing the EU digital COVID certificate, proof of vaccination, testing or a similar document containing the same data as the EU COVID digital certificate.

Among the special categories of persons exempted from the requirement to present COVID documents upon entry into the Republic of Bulgaria are persons transiting Bulgaria.

Bulgaria has lately seen a spike in COVID-19 cases and new restrictions have been introduced. Bulgarian restaurants and bars will close at 22:00 local time starting September 7th, while indoor sports competitions will take place without spectators. Music festivals will be banned and theaters and cinemas will operate at a maximum of 50% capacity.

Bulgaria has the lowest rate of COVID-19 vaccination in the European Union, with Romania following suit.

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