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Election weekend in Eastern Europe brings unexpected change and hope for progress

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On Sunday (11 July), Bulgarians went to the polls for a second time in less than six months after former Prime Minister Boiko Borisov failed to form a governing coalition following April’s parliamentary election, writes Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent.

With 95% of ballots tallied, former Prime Minister Boiko Borisov's GERB center-right party came out first winning 23.9% of the vote, according to data provided by the Central Election Commission.

Borisov's party is neck and neck with the newcomer anti-establishment party "There is such a people" (ITN), lead by singer and television presenter Slavi Trifonov.

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Borissov’s narrow lead might not be enough for him to retake control of government.

Anti-corruption parties "Democratic Bulgaria" and "Stand up! Mafia, out! ”, ITN's potential coalition partners received 12.6% and 5% of the vote, respectively. The Socialists obtained 13.6%, and the MRF party, representing ethnic Turks, 10.6%.

Some political pundits have speculated that ITN, Trifonov's party - which avoided forming a governing coalition in April - could now try to form a majority with the liberal alliance Democratic Bulgaria and Stand Up! Mafia out! parties. This would see a populist party with no clear political agenda taking power. However, the three parties may not get the majority needed to form a government and may be forced to seek support from members of the Socialist Party or the Movement for the Rights and Freedom of Ethnic Turks.

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Boiko Borisov's GERB center-right party which has been in power for almost the entire past decade has been tainted by graft scandals and the continuous nation-wide protests which only ended in April.

In Republic of Moldova, president Sandu’s pro-European Party of Action and Solidarity secured a majority of votes in Sunday’s parliamentary elections. As Moldova is trying to get out of Russia’s grip and head towards Europe, the election struggle again saw pro-Europeans and pro-Russians locking horns. The two directions are antagonistic and were an additional reason for the division of society, which fails to find its link to build together the future of the poorest state in Europe.

More than 3.2 million Moldovans were expected to get out and vote to nominate their representatives in the future parliament in Chisinau, but the real impact was done by Moldavians living abroad. Moldovian diaspora help Sandu’s pro-European party secure the win and thus possibly opening the way for Republic of Moldova future European integration.

More than 86% of Moldovan citizens abroad, who voted in Sunday's early parliamentary elections, backed President Maia Sandu's Action and Solidarity Party (PAS). A PAS victory offers Sandhu a friendly legislature to work with while trying to put the country on a path to European integration.

Maia Sandu promised before the Sunday vote that a win for her party would bring the country back into the European fold, focusing on better relations with both neighboring Romania and Brussels.

Much like it happened during November’s vote which saw Maia Sandu winning the presidency, Moldavians living aboard made all the difference as a good many voted for pro-European candidates.

Talking to EU Reporter, Armand Gosu, associate professor at Bucharest University and specialist in the ex-Soviet region said about the pro-European win that “this victory creates the preconditions for a new wave of reforms, especially in the judiciary and the fight against corruption, reforms aimed at creating a favorable internal framework for foreign investment that will ultimately lead to an increase in living standards, the rule of law and a high degree of resilience in the face of foreign interference. Sunday’s result is a start, there have been other such beginnings, but in order to lead somewhere, the EU must also change its approach and offer a concrete perspective.”

Armand Gosu told EU Reporter that “Republic of Moldova is invited to reform itself, to enter into various cooperation mechanisms with the EU, to open its market for European products and to become more and more compatible with EU standards“ but becoming a potential EU member country may take many decades to happen.

Mentioning the Russian influence in the Republic of Moldova, Gosu said that we will see a clear detachment from Russian sphere of influence after the final results are in and after we will have new parliamentary majorities.

“When speaking about Russian influence, things are more complicated. The false pro-European governments that held power in Chisinau -referring to the ones controlled by the fugitive oligarch, Vladimir Plahotniuc- abused the geo-political discourse, the anti-Russian rhetoric in order to legitimize themselves in front of the West. Maia Sandu's party is pro-European in another way. She talks about the values ​​of the free world and not about the Russian threat as a pretext to limit civil liberties, to arrest people and to outlaw associations or even parties. I believe that Maia Sandu has a correct approach, making profound reforms that will fundamentally transform Moldovan society. In fact, the premises for Moldova's exit from Russian sphere influence were created 7 years ago, after the outbreak of the war between Ukraine and Russia, in the spring of 2014. The result of the vote indicates a social demand from society to move towards West, to support radical change, 30 years after independence.”

Bulgaria

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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Bulgaria

Bulgaria faces fresh elections as Socialists refuse to form a government

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Bulgaria's President Rumen Radev. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Pool

Bulgaria will head to its third national election this year, after the Socialists on Thursday (2 September) became the third political party to refuse to lead a government following July's inconclusive parliamentary election, writes Tsvetelia Tsolova, Reuters.

The Socialists gave up on plans to form a working government after their potential allies, the anti-establishment ITN party and two smaller anti-graft parties, refused to back them. The party will return the mandate to the president tomorrow (7 September).

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"We did our best and appealed for sense and responsibility, but it did not work out," Socialist leader Kornlia Ninova said.

President Rumen Radev faces having to dissolve parliament, appoint a new interim administration and call a snap poll within two months.

The new parliamentary election could be held as early as Nov. 7, or coincide with one of the two rounds of a presidential election, on 14 November or 21 November. Read more.

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The prolonged political uncertainty is hampering Bulgaria's ability to efficiently deal with a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and tap into hefty European Union's coronavirus recovery funds.

The Socialists' decision comes after both ITN, which narrowly won the July polls, and the centre-right GERB party of former premier Boyko Borissov gave up on attempts to form a government in the fractured parliament. Read more.

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Bulgaria

EU Cohesion policy: €2.7 billion to support the recovery in Spain, Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary and Germany

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The Commission has approved the modification of six Operational Programmes (OP) for the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF) in Spain, Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary and Germany under REACT-EU for a total of €2.7 billion. In Italy, €1bn is added to the ERDF-ESF National Operational Programme for Metropolitan Cities. These resources aim to strengthen the green and digital transition as well as the resilience of metropolitan cities. €80 million are also earmarked to strengthen the social system in metropolitan cities. In Hungary, the Economic Development and Innovation Operational Programme (EDIOP) receives additional resources of €881m.

This money will be used for an interest-free working capital loan instrument to support more than 8,000 SMEs and support a wage subsidy scheme for workers in enterprises affected by the COVID-19 lockdown measures. In Spain, the ERDF Operational Programme for the Canary Islands will receive an additional amount of €402 million for protection equipment and infrastructure for health, including COVID-19 related R&D projects. The allocations also support the transition to a green and digital economy, including sustainable tourism. Almost 7,000 SMEs mainly from the tourism sector will receive support to overcome the financial difficulties triggered by the crisis of COVID-19. The region will also dedicate a significant part of the resources to social and emergency service infrastructure. In the region of Galicia, €305m thanks to REACT-EU top up the ERDF Operational Programme.

This allocation has been earmarked for products and services for health, the transition to a digital economy including digitalization of the administration and of SMEs. They also support ‘green' projects like R&D in forestry, bio-waste chain, urban mobility, intermodal transport, as well as fire prevention and renovation of health centres and schools. In Bulgaria, the ERDF OP 'Competitiveness and Innovation' receives an additional €120m. These resources will be used for working capital support for SMEs.

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It is estimated that some 2,600 SMEs should benefit from the support. In Germany, the region of Brandenburg will receive additional €30 million for its ERDF Operational Programme to support the tourism sector and the SMEs hit by the coronavirus pandemic and for digitalization measures in cultural institutions and chambers of crafts. REACT-EU is part of NextGenerationEU and provides €50.6bn additional funding (in current prices) over the course of 2021 and 2022 to Cohesion policy programmes.

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