Daniel Kaddik: EU Skepticism is Triggered by Lack of Communication
Daniel Kaddik is the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom's Project Director for Southeast Europe. His fields of expertise include EU integration, the EU's Eastern Enlargement and its Eastern Partnership programs. Integration, alongside economic development, media freedom, and rule of law, as well as youth political organization are among the main points of project activities in his region.
The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom is the foundation for liberal politics in the Federal Republic of Germany and aims to promote the principles of freedom, human rights, rule of law and democracy in more than 60 countries, which include Bulgaria. It also aims at enhancing liberal values and offering support to liberal parties and groups, as well as active citizens.
In the following interview, Mr Kaddik touches a range of subjects – from democratic development in Bulgaria and the performance of its liberal parties to this week’s European elections and the problems of relations between Bulgaria and other present or aspiring EU member states.
Our conversation also came ahead of Monday, May 19's event organized by the FNF and PanEuropa Bulgaria entitled #BGVOTESEU which is to be held in Sofia and at which the European elections this week are due to be discussed.
Mr Kaddik, your foundation’s Southeast European project bureau covers Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Macedonia. Why is it then based in Bulgaria and not Romania, for instance?
The decision was taken during the time of the NDSV-DPS [2005-2009] government. We had high expectations for Bulgaria and that was the reason why we actually moved the office from Bucharest to Sofia. And not only this office, but also our regional office that is responsible for Central Europe, Southeast Europe, South Caucasus and Central Asia. That has proven the government was successful, even though they were not so successful at sustaining what they had at that time. However, looking at the developments in Bulgaria, it's quite sensible that we are still here.
So your expectations for Bulgaria mostly faded?
At least partly. Bulgaria became a member of the EU, it became a member of NATO, but still, I don't think that the expectations that everybody had when it joined the EU in 2007 were matched to the full extent. It was mainly because many politicians in Bulgaria saw membership in the EU as a final step. They thought they would be members and everything would be good, Brussels would tell them what to do. But that's not how the EU works, and this is something he wave seen, for example, in the Commission’s Progress Report for 2013, which says that there is massive lack of progress in a lot of fields. I am afraid that many Bulgarian politicians still think that Brussels will tell them what to do.
And how does Bulgaria’s lack of progress affect your activity in the country?
We came to Bulgaria, we actually work here since 1991, as the first foundation to work here. At the beginning it was mainly working with political parties and building structures for them. Then we thought we could concentrate on other fields. But we are still working with political parties and on capacity building for them. We have also increased our work in the fields of freedom of media, anti-corruption. I am very sorry to say - and this I got this picture from a colleague of mine - that we are working in waves. We are always having a wave of positive outlook, there is something happening, we are doing something, and then the wave goes down and we are back where we started. My colleague said it reminds him of the beginning of the 1990s or the time of the financial crisis by the end of the 1990s. So the work has not changed so much, it’s still democracy building that we are doing here.
Is this democracy building in waves in Bulgaria a result of a specific trend that you are observing in countries in the region, or is it rather a part of something typically Bulgarian?
I wouldn't call it a typical Bulgarian problem – it is a problem you have in a lot of countries that were part of the Eastern bloc. You had at the beginning of the nineties the problem of non-existent democratic structures, therefore you did not have a democratic culture. This gap had to be filled somehow. Some countries were more successful with that, while in Bulgaria and also in other countries unfortunately the case was that certain positions were filled again with people who should not have been there. The politicians did not really understand that politics is not for their own gain, but for the good of the people that they are not ruling but governing. The incomplete establishment of the rule of law in Bulgaria for instance is a direct result of that. I also think that the former communist parties, especially the BSP [Bulgarian Socialist Party], still have the old structures and the old guys in that party. That is a problem, but it's the same in Romania. You have the PSD [Social Democratic Party] in Romania, it's the one that also followed the communist party. You have it in a lot of eastern European countries.
You say that the BSP has defects resulting in today's governance. But speaking of liberal parties, how did National Movement for Stability and Progress (NDSV), for instance, contribute to the process of democratic transformation and what do you think explains its current low performance?
They have been quite successful, let's be honest, in bringing Bulgaria to the EU and to NATO. But the problem was that they were not able to communicate their success and also that progress did not go as expected. Moreover, I think there was a massive lack of communication that becoming wealthy will not be an automatic effect of EU accession. So people were disappointed of what happened. If people are disappointed, it is very easy for other parties to say: “See, these guys from NDSV lied to you, the King [ex-Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha] stole from you and you should vote for us.” Even though these self-advertisements started with wrong allegations, you saw the decline in 2009, when NDSV got just under 4%, while before that they were the major party in the coalition. There is also a very interesting fact of Bulgaria’s political scene: parties rise very quickly and then like a balloon they deflate because they are not adapting to the changing environment.
Against the background of all parties that have managed to succeed and then fall down, one party describing itself as liberal has managed to survive – the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS). How does it qualify as a liberal party?
I would say four things explain why it does qualify. First, the very important role of the party after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist system. The DPS played a vital role for Bulgaria not to become a second Yugoslavia. They were a very important part of the ethnic peace. It could have gone very wrong. Another reason I consider them liberal is that they are members of the ALDE, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, since 2001. And since 2003 they have been members of the Liberal International. Dzhevdet Chakarov, the former Minister of Environment, has been elected for the third time in a row Deputy President of Liberal International and that would not have happened if he did not perform well in the international context. Thirdly, if you look at the program of the DPS, it contains liberal messages, especially those for ethnic collaboration and minority issues. The most vital indicator is the youth organization – the MDPS. The Deputy Chair of the International Liberal Youth is by the way an ethnic Bulgarian from the DPS. I remember my first event with MDPS in Bulgaria, where we were talking of taboos in Europe. And you might remember the Mohammed cartoons. A girl from DPS stood up at the discussions and said: “OK, I might not like these cartoons because I am a Muslim, but I'm liberal, that's why I think it’s the freedom of speech that is more important than my personal feelings.”
Does this mixture of liberal ideology and diversity within the DPS explain its always-good results, or is it something else?
They also care about the electorate. I don’t know if you have ever visited the region and talked to people there. DPS’s electorate feels they are doing something and that’s not so common in politicians. There are a lot of people feeling that they have their political representation – people from the Turkish minority for example. That's a second reason why I think they've had these quite stable election results in the past, and I think they are good at motivating people to go to vote.
Has your foundation had any stance on the protests that sparked last year in Bulgaria, having in mind they had a special focus on the role of the DPS within the government?
We of course asked the question why that happened. The answer was given to us just as it was given to you, but no, we didn't take any special stand on that.
Let’s move forward to the FNF’s event on Monday dedicated to the European elections in Bulgaria. The first discussion's title is: "Seven Years of Bulgaria in the EU: A Dream Still to Be Accomplished?" What do you think needs to be done as a first priority to make this dream become true in Bulgaria?
There are actually three things. First and foremost is the realization that being a member of the EU does not automatically let your country be prosperous. Secondly, the political parties in Bulgaria have to remember what they have been elected for. They should not be entirely, solely engaged in fights between them, but should also look at what worked in Europe, what can we take to Bulgaria and then implement it. They’re working for you, you as Bulgarian people are their employer. If they are not doing that, you have to fire them. And firing the government happened last year after the protests which officially were against energy prices, but unofficially were against the lack of perspective in Bulgaria. A third crucial thing for the success of Bulgaria is that the people have to take ownership of their fate. They have to demand changes within the judicial system, changes in the – let’s face it – quite corrupt public sphere in Bulgaria, but they also have to take ownership of their lives. There was a study conducted by the Institute for Market Economics on if entrepreneurship, being self-responsible for your life, is a value in Bulgaria and other communist countries. No, it’s not, and that has to change. If these things are fulfilled, the dream can be accomplished.
Another thing coming as a disappointment according to Bulgarian experts is the way the election campaign for the EU vote is being conducted here. Do you have any specific observations on it? Is it a move in the right direction toward democratic transition?
You might say that Bulgaria moves in the European average when it comes to European messages in the campaign. I've been to Germany and most of the messages are domestic. I've been to the Netherlands recently, most of the messages are also domestic. Of course, the great speeches of the parties always say: “Europe! Europe! Europe!” But when you look at the billboards, they say: "More jobs for us!" Well, Bulgaria is not an exception from that, even though you find very interesting cases of election campaigns. I find it very interesting that [far-right party Ataka's leader] Volen Siderov started his campaign for euro elections in Moscow, being awarded a Star of the Fatherland. But you also see that in these elections a lot of people - and a lot of politicians - have not understood what Europe is for. Europe is not the bad guy in Brussels drafting the legislation that you don’t like. But Brussels is a chance you could use as a country to have more economic growth, to travel freely throughout Europe like Bulgarians and Romanians are able since January 1, 2014. You have the power to change things in Brussels, because under the Treaty of Lisbon the powers of the European Parliament have been tremendously strengthened. But you have to communicate that to the people, and that is not happening. Your national politicians and national ministers have, in the Council of Ministers, the power to change things; but it's not properly communicated.
Is it lack of communication that triggers that huge wave of skepticism, not only in Bulgaria, but also across Europe?
Yes, it's one of the aspects. Actually it's mainly communication, because everything that's bad - it comes from Brussels. When you have a look at how big the European administration in Brussels is compared to what we have in the member states - it's tiny! When we see the budget - yes, let's not talk about the subsidies they're giving, but the rest is not that big. But everything that's bad is said to be coming from Brussels; if Brussels does something good, it's the domestic politicians that have achieved it. If there's a bridge or a street being built somewhere, the local politicians say: "I did that. We did that." [Former Prime Minister] Boyko Borisov mostly said: "I did that personally". He dug everything himself. And that is a big problem. People travel, but they don't see it as a result of the membership of the European Union. They can work everywhere in Europe but they don’t see it as a EU benefit. Trade has been tremendously boosted in the years of membership between the members themselves. Germany for instance still has the majority of trade with countries out of the borders, but the manufacturing processes are in Europe. A lot of the parts that are put into Mercedes or BMW are made in Romania, otherwise we wouldn’t have that level of competitiveness. So yes, I think it is communication that is mostly wrong among member states, but also lack of proper communication from the side of the EU. When it came to the issue of saving the euro, our Chancellor [Angela Merkel] said: “There's no alternative.” It was nice to say that, but why is there no alternative? Why don't you treat the alternatives other people see as being valid and discuss them?
Did you watch Friday's debate between EU Commission President candidates? Do you think it promotes communication in a way that helps people to understand the EU?
I am a little bit afraid that they still have to work on their communication so that everybody can understand that. There have been a lot of technicalities that have been brought up... But yes, in general I think something like that would be beneficial for the communication and understanding in Europe, even though that these are channels that are rather limited. Giving a face to the guys in Brussels is an important thing. But it's also a responsibility of the Bulgarian MEPs to come to Bulgaria and explain what they are doing. They have been elected by the Bulgarian people to represent them and it’s a two-way street, so they also have to bring the ideas from Bulgaria to Brussels and therefore they have again to talk to Bulgarian people. And this I see is missing so far in a lot of countries.
What about regional communication? Judging by your activities in both Bulgaria and Romania, is it going in the right direction? Here it is often said projects with Romania are hindered by the other side.
I find it very curious how slow the progress is there. I was very astonished to know that finally last week the railway track over the Danube Bridge 2 [connecting the cities of Vidin and Calafat] was opened. You are neighbors, you should work together, you should be trading with each other! Bucharest and Sofia – it is 369 kilometers! One should think there is direct trade connection there and that there is a highway going from one city to the other; and one would think that especially in the Danube region there would be cooperation in the field of tourism. But there is, as you rightfully say, a lack of regional collaboration. It's something we try to change, we try to bring local politicians on the same table. We also brought them to Germany, so that they see how Germany works with its neighbors. There are regions at the border with the Netherlands functioning like joint municipalities. They have different mayors, but the cities' administrations work together, because it's cheaper. When it comes to collaboration in the Danube region in Germany, they work with their neighbors as well, because they see it can save a lot of money to attract tourists. But if I see how many forms you have to fill in if you want to achieve something or if you want to build something in the Danube region in Bulgaria, you get an idea, why there is not much happening. This is to a large extend because the area next to the Danube is owned by the municipality, but the actual shore of the Danube is owned by the Bulgarian state. So the municipality cannot do anything there. They always have to refer back to Sofia to change things. And there's a similar problem in Romania.
What should be the role of already-members Romania and Bulgaria in the integration of the aspiring members Macedonia and Moldova?
When it comes to Macedonia, don't bite the carrot every time they put it in front of your nose. There is a big problem in Macedonia, there is the establishment of an autocratic regime. If you look at the report of the Reporters without Borders, Bulgaria is looking bad, but look at Macedonia! Freedom of opposition virtually does not exist there anymore. There is 30% of unemployment and 1/3 of the jobs is nevertheless given out by the state. I would really like to see Bulgaria and Greece - especially Greece – not to bite every carrot they're showing to you. Because every time there is a progress within the talks between Macedonia and the EU, the Macedonian government does something to trigger you. It says King Samuil [a Bulgarian King (997-1014)] is Macedonian or something like that then Bulgaria replies: "No, you can't be a member of the European Union!" When Macedonia printed new money with Alexander the Great on them, what did Greeks do? They said: "That's outrageous. You cannot be a member of the EU!" So what I would like to see from the Bulgarian side - not biting every carrot, but also demanding change in Macedonia. Looking at the Macedonian government and saying: "That's not right, that's not how you do it," and moreover offer some expertise. You are a member of the EU and there's an aspiring member right next to you. So help them.
But isn't it carrots and sticks applied by the EU to Bulgaria that also determine the way Bulgaria is treating Skopje and Romania is treating Moldova?
I don't think you can compare the two cases, because Romania is massively working for Moldova to join the EU in 2019. Romania is building pipelines, so Moldova is not anymore dependent on the Russian gas. They're building electricity lines, so they can support Moldova; and there has been a law since 4 or 5 years that Moldovans can easily acquire a Romanian passport. That's different.
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"Europe is not the bad guy in Brussels drafting the legislation that you don’t like. But Brussels is a chance you could use as a country to have more economic growth, to travel freely throughout Europe like Bulgarians and Romanians are able since January 1, 2014."
so is this wishy-washy dodgy facial haired liberal suggesting the EU should be toned back to just simply a eurozone for free trade and free movement instead of the bottomless money pit of corruption that it has become?
Thatcher has never been more correct.