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EU admonishes Bulgarian government near day 100 of protests

October 17 marks 100 days of protests in Bulgaria. Activists have been on the streets non-stop since early July after a physical altercation between two politicians, followed by an unraveled corruption scandal involving Prime Minister Borisov. The European Parliament scolded Borisov on October 8 for failures within his government. Without naming him, the European People’s Party approved a 25-clause resolution outlining deep, systematic weaknesses and deteriorating respect for the rule of law of and democracy under Borisov’s leadership.

The resolution calling out Bulgaria’s shortcomings comes after days of plenary sessions tackling declining EU values and misuse of funds. This debate happened before anticipated negotiations for the 2021-2027 union budget. Anti-corruption party leader, Hristo Ivanov, says that EU funds have been fueling the Bulgarian mafia. Protestors are awaiting a response from Borisov who has thus far refused to step down until after the next elections. With only mild external pressure from the EU, Borisov is unlikely to change course.

MEPs expressed their unequivocal support for Bulgarian’s protesting peacefully. They also stated that any changes in Bulgaria should come from the elections early next year, a stark difference to what protestors are demanding now. This resolution will be moot in changing behavior if Borisov refuses to resign while continuing to misuse EU funds. The question comes of what the EU will do if Borisov’s government doesn’t create any material reforms before election day.

The EU is managing problems of deteriorating European values in countries like Hungary and Poland. Bulgaria is having issues of corruption and failing institutions, but with a lack of Euroscepticism within Borisov’s majority GERB party. A key ally to the EPP, Borisov is a head of state often met with open arms in the European Parliament. He is known to be friendly with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Internal commitments and investigations to weed out corruption in Bulgaria have typically placated European leaders. While the resolution states concern over the “continuous lack of high-level corruption investigations yielding any tangible results,” there is no substantial call to action. Although there are other avenues in which the EU could apply pressure to Borisov; If the European Commission finds it necessary, it could begin infringement proceedings or Article 7 hearings on Bulgaria for violating EU law in the mismanagement of funds. These actions could result in partial sanctions or even suspension of membership rights.

It’s hard to predict how Borisov will react the resolution critiquing his government and vindicating opposition protestors. For now, the streets of Sofia will continue to see signs of unrest and anger from Bulgarian’s demanding better of their leaders.

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