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Why Bulgaria opposes Kovesi and what can the EU Parliament do for you: interview with Peter Kouroumbashev, Bulgarian MEP

Peter KOUROUMBASHEV in the EP

After Romania tried hard (and failed), in an epic hearing in front of the LIBE Committee in the EU, to block the candidature of Codruta Kovesi as EU chief Prosecutor, it appeared that besides Romania, Bulgaria has also opposed Kovesi in the COREPER (formed by the ambassadors to the EU).

Kövesi has actually been ranked first by the EU Parliament committees in the selection procedure for the position of chief prosecutor of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), despite frantic opposition from her own government in Bucharest and from the Socialist MEPs, both Romanian and Bulgarian.

I asked the maverick Bulgarian MEP Peter Kouroumbashev, nominally a Socialist, a former student activist in the early 1990’s and producer of “Ku-Ku”, Bulgaria’s first TV political-satirical show, why his country voted against Kovesi:

P. K. That’s a question for the government, not for an MEP.

Come on, you must have an idea.

P. K. Well… Obviously the idea is that something like what happened in Romania could happen in Bulgaria, and this is probably not a prospect that the ruling party in Bulgaria would be a big fan of.

Is is for the same reason that Bulgaria was afraid of the candidacy of the Bulgarian Ivailo Kalfin as chief of OLAF? 

P. K. In the case of OLAF, I don’t think we have exactly the same situation, but it is indeed similar. Bulgaria had this very good candidate, Ivailo Kalfin, who was twice deputy prime minister in different governments. He was also an MEP, doing a great job especially in the budget area. He would have been a perfect choice as chief of OLAF, but some of my colleagues, MEPs from certain parts of Europe, asked him how someone from Central and Eastern Europe could manage OLAF, when the major interest of OLAF is exactly that part of Europe that he comes from. Actually, my argument is the reverse: someone from Central and Eastern Europe would be the best candidate, because on the one hand you must know very well the European regulations, and on the other hand to know how the local people are dealing. One has to understand the local mentality. But there was the fight between the EPP and the S&D, and also I am not sure whether our country actively supported its own candidate. We already had the same situation with the UN candidacy of Irina Bokova. If you are not supported by your own country, it is very difficult to convince the other countries to support you. What happened with Ivailo Kalfin in Bulgaria and Kovesi in Romania is similar with the situation in Poland with Donald Tusk.

But the chief of the European Socialists Sergei Stanishev is known for being ready to intervene when he decides to. For instance, in 2012, Stanishev backed the then Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta. But now look what happened: Ponta created his own party and he is denouncing the Socialists, even more vehemently than the right. It was a bad bet for Stanishev, who is now is backing Dragnea, and opposing Kovesi’s nomination. You come from the same party as Stanishev. Is the political label all that counts?

P. K. Well… I would abstain from speaking on behalf of Mr. Stanishev, precisely because we belong to the same party. I am going to run again, and since we are competing, I think it wouldn’t be very fair to make comments about each other.

Can you then confirm that there are backstage negotiations between the EPP and the Socialists in order for each one of them to drop simultaneously their extremist members: Viktor Orban’s Fidesz for the EPP, the Romanian Socialists for the S&D?

P. K. I think these should be separate decisions, and not some sort of barter and haggling, like exchanging coins. I think, anyway, that Mr. Orban is much more important. I am not trying to decide who is worse, but I think Orban carries more weight in the EPP. Nevertheless, the Romanian Socialists are performing well in the same direction. Anyway, they will be one of the biggest groups in the next Social-Democrat faction here. We could arrive at a situation in which the Bulgarian Socialists will be as numerous as the French Socialists, while the Romanian Socialist MEPs will be as numerous as the German SPD. It will be an interesting balancing act between East and West in the Socialist group.

They will have a hard task, given the euro-fatigue in the public opinion. People are tired of Europe everywhere. How can you stimulate the voters, attract them, mobilize them, especially the young people? What would you tell them, if you had to launch an appeal: this is what the EU Parliament did and can do for you. Go and vote!

P. K. It is very easy to be tired and it is very difficult to spell out what you stand for. I would ask those who say they have enough of this Europe: — What is the alternative? I remember my first visit to London, in 1990. I needed an outgoing visa, a visa for being able to leave my own country, on top of the UK visa. Until 2001, Bulgarians and Romanians needed a visa even for Greece. Now we are unhappy because we are still not in Schengen. But when we enter Schengen, there will only one European space, from the Turkish border to the UK border. Of course, if we are not happy with that, if we prefer the older world… I know how easy it is to play with nostalgia for the “good old times”, but they don’t exist anymore and cannot return in what we think is their ideal form.

I think one of the great advertisement for the EU is Brexit. If someone would want now to leave the EU, all we have to do is to point to Brexit. This might not have been the initial intention of the Brexiteers, but look at what is happening. A lot of people are starting to understand that Brexit is a lose-lose decision, both for the EU, and for Britain. If somebody wants to follow that brilliant example, they are free to do it. It is very easy to complain, but very difficult to create. It would be stupid to dismantle something that took so many years to build. And what will happen after that?

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