The government of Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanichev is struggling to cope with energy problems. Most of the population spent the winter without heating during Russia and Ukraine’s gas row. Bulgaria is central to European energy projects and its economy is performing relatively well in the current financial crisis. But Brussels has cut subsidies to Sofia over claims of mismanagement and an ineffective response to organised crime and corruption.
Sergio Cantone, euronews: “Prime minister welcome to euronews, well, (there) may be another crisis, concerning energy and gas supplies. What are you going to do?” Sergei Stanishev, Bulgarian Prime Minister: “My country is having its own action plan in such a crisis situation. We have an underground facilities storage, which we were using during the January crisis and it was covering about 40 per cent of the average daily supply for the country, but I should be…insincere… if I said that we were not suffering badly, our economy suffered. And I think it should be very clearly said that, right now, such situations are unacceptable. European citizens cannot be hostages to bilateral economic conflicts or even political conflicts, because both countries in the longer run, Russia and Ukraine, would loose very severely their credibility. Sergio Cantone: “What is exactly the plan that the European Union and Bulgaria, of course…” Sergei Stanishev: “Come on; tell me, if you have a recipe right now on what can be done I would gladly take it, but miracles do not happen overnight, especially when you are speaking about diversification of gas supplies or interconnections anything else, it takes constructive time.” Sergio Cantone: “500 million euros of funds have been cut because of mismanagement of European funds, so how do say that you are (how do you explain why) you are waiting for new funds for interconnections in the sector of energy? Sergei Stanishev: “The experts and the politicians are realising the efforts which have been made by the Bulgarian government authorities through changing the legislation, creating much more transparent mechanisms, stranding (sic) the administration, changing people in the administration, where they are needed, especially in the management of the funds. And we are fully open to a very close cooperation and monitoring because we have only one goal… Sergio Cantone: “Prime Minister, your country has lost 500 million Euros of funds for creating infrastructure for roads and other kind of infrastructures. How to deal with this loss of money? Sergei Stanishev: “Some of the funds have been irreversibly lost, some not, and we, as I am explaining to you, are doing our best for the structural reforms, personal changes, creating new rules and complete openness to the European commission, to provide that this money will be used effectively and in a transparent way.” Sergio Cantone: “Is your government doing enough in order to tackle the corruption, which is affecting, of course, the distribution of these funds?” Sergei Stanishev: “Well, I think that there always more to be done by any government in every European country and I think that this government has proven its political will, to address the issue of the organised crime and corruption in a very serious way. If you look even at the Bulgarian news, in the recent months, you can see how many practical, not only legislative actions, not only administrative actions, but practical hits against organized crime have been made by the authorities. But also, even more important is to deepen the reform in the judiciary, so when you get a criminal, beat an official, a corrupt person, or a criminal from organised crime, when he is brought into court, then the case is resolved, and there is a sentence.” Sergio Cantone: “But there are many cases that are still unresolved…” Sergei Stanishev: “That’s a problem…” Sergio Cantone: “…important murders…” Sergei Stanishev: “That’s a problem, and this is what we are working on. But think it over, if something has happened 10 years ago and the job was not done at the time by the authorities, how can we now resolve something and get evidence ten years later. Have you ever seen a crime movie?” Sergio Cantone: “There is an important report by OLAF, the anti-corruption unit of the European Union. It’s a June 2008 report, that is not that good for Bulgaria and it’s last year. So what do you think about it? It’s not 10 years ago.” Sergei Stanishev: “It’s not 10 years ago, but there is a progress since then and it was declared also by OLAF. There are common units of the prosecutor’s office and many other institutions, including the national security agency, the ministry of interior, which are working on cases of fraud with European funds. And there are not only cases which have been investigated, several dozens, by the way, I don’t know if you are aware of this.” Sergio Cantone: “What about the European Commission, do you think that the European Commission is wrong in freezing the funds for Bulgaria because of crime and corruption? Sergei Stanishev: “I think this was not the reason and the motivation of the Commission. There were problems and failures in the management of the funds. At the same time there is a progress, and then very serious reforms are in place…” Sergio Cantone: “But are they wrong or right? Sergei Stanishev: “You are trying to confront me with the European Commission, you will not get it! We are having a very open and sincere cooperation… Sergio Cantone: “I’m not trying to confront you, I’m just asking whether…” Sergei Stanishev: “Well, you can repeat me the same question 10 times and I’ll give the same answer 10 times. Behind the reforms there are real people in Bulgaria: politicians, experts, people in the administration, which are working very hard and they need also encouragement.” Sergio Cantone: “Do you think that central and eastern Europe needs a sort of bail-out? Or do you think that is better not to do it?” Sergei Stanishev: “My country at the moment hasn’t asked for a single penny, for a single cent to be more precise, from the European Central Bank or from anyone else, because we have conducted a sober macroeconomic fiscal and financial policy. We have conducted reforms in Bulgaria in the last years. But it is important to give here very clear signals that we are one entity, that no one will be left out, irrespective if the country is in the euro zone, in the ERM 2 (exchange rate mechanism) or a country out of this sector because… look if you are formal some countries today should be expelled from the euro zone, but thank, god no one is thinking about this, because if you would not have the Euro zone the effect of the financial crisis would be devastating for many of the older member countries and their banking systems. So let’s be pragmatic, let’s step on solidarity, let’s look for the decisions which will help the European economy as a whole and will protect the people of Europe.”