Politico: Bulgarian Far Right Set to Shock Brussels
Brussels is bracing for a blast of Bulgarian ultra-nationalism, Politico writes.
With Sofia taking over the EU’s rotating Council presidency in January, politicians and officials in Brussels are sounding the alarm over the United Patriots (UP) — a group of three far-right parties in Bulgaria’s coalition government.
UP leaders have used racist rhetoric toward Bulgaria’s Roma minority, advocated violence to prevent migrants from entering Europe and publicly expressed doubt that man-made climate change is a problem.
Ministers nominated by the UP will chair two incarnations of the Council of the EU during Bulgaria’s presidency, dealing with the European single market and environmental policy. The government of which they are part will also lead debates on sensitive topics, ranging from an overhaul of asylum policies to the EU’s spending priorities from 2021.
One UP leader, Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov, once publicly described the Roma as “ferocious apes.” A second leader, Deputy Prime Minister Krasimir Karakachanov, who, as defense minister, will participate in the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council, recently said the EU and NATO should stop migrants entering Europe “by force of arms if necessary.”
And a third UP-nominated member of the government, Environment Minister Neno Dimov, who will lead the Environment Council during Bulgaria’s presidency, said in 2015 that climate change is “a matter more of manipulation than for serious concern.”
Officials in Brussels said they were deeply apprehensive about the prominent role UP leaders will soon play in EU affairs.
“At a time when [U.S. President Donald] Trump is defending Nazi sympathizers, we have to ensure that the Council presidency shows unitedly that there is no place for fascist ideas in the European Union,” said Guy Verhofstadt, an MEP and former Belgian prime minister, who leads the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. Verhofstadt said MEPs would “keep a close eye” on the UP.
Asked by POLITICO about the UP’s rhetoric, Commissioner for Justice Věra Jourová, who is in charge of promoting the integration of Roma communities across Europe, said: “It is absolutely unacceptable … I am nervous about this situation.” She said she is already monitoring the new government’s policy toward the Roma for signs of backsliding and would be in “intensive” discussions with Sofia in the coming months.
While far-right parties have failed to get into power this year elsewhere in Europe, the United Patriots signed up to a coalition with Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, whose center-right GERB party failed to win a parliamentary majority in a snap election in March.
Joseph Daul, the leader of the European People’s Party, of which GERB is a member, had previously called the UP an unacceptable coalition partner.
The UP nominated four ministers in the government — two deputy prime ministers, Karakachanov and Simeonov, plus Dimov, the environment minister, and Emil Karanikolov, the economy minister. During the presidency, Karanikolov will chair the EU’s Competitiveness Council, which deals with internal market legislation, and lead meetings of trade ministers.
In some cases, UP leaders have sought to turn their nationalist rhetoric into action. Earlier this year, Simeonov and Karakachanov, the defense minister who is also leader of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO), joined protesters who tried to barricade the Bulgarian-Turkish border to stop ethnic Turks from voting in the election.
IMRO “is notorious for systematically propagating hatred against neighboring peoples in the Balkans as well as anti-Gypsy propaganda,” said the Council of Europe’s Commission against Racism and Intolerance in a report.
The same report described IMRO and the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria, led by Simeonov, as “ultra-nationalist/fascist” and Volen Siderov — leader of Ataka, the third party in the UP alliance — as “well-known for his outspoken racist views.”
During a parliamentary debate in 2014, Simeonov said the Roma community had turned into “ferocious apes demanding a right to salary without labor, sickness benefits without being sick, child benefits for children playing with pigs in the streets, and maternal benefits for women with the instincts of street b–ches.”
His party also campaigned in the country’s 2014 election with IMRO to destroy illegal Roma villages, placing Roma communities in “reservations” and keeping some as “tourist attractions.”
Not long after the government was formed, Simeonov was forced to defend two colleagues after photos of them giving Nazi salutes appeared online, as well as another deputy interior minister for describing refugees as “apes.”
“Bulgaria doesn’t need uneducated refugees … They have a different culture, different religion, even different daily habits,” Simeonov told the BBC.
As deputy prime minister, Simeonov now chairs a national council dealing with the integration of ethnic minorities — an absurd turn, in the opinion of some EU politicians.
“It is frankly appalling that Valeri Simeonov … can be deputy prime minister of an EU country,” said Soraya Post, a Swedish MEP who leads on Roma issues in the European Parliament, adding that Simeonov’s appointment to the head of the national council was a “cruel and sickening joke.”
Simeonov did not respond to a request for comment, and Karakachanov was not available for comment. Angel Dzhambazki, an IMRO MEP, said he was not concerned by the criticism from Brussels. “Whoever says these things, they need to prove it in court. If they fail to prove [their statements] in court, then they’re liars,” he said.
“I’m tired of hearing all these silly, empty accusations made by people who have nothing to say, so they come up with clichés to hide their own political insignificance,” he added. “Usually such statements come from people who have poor track records as politicians.”
“Until now there is no proof that Borisov will go against European policy,” said Elmar Brok, a German center-right MEP who until recently chaired the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
And while a few years ago the UP’s rhetoric on migrants and Turkey was seen as beyond the pale, party officials suggest at least some of their ideas have now been embraced by mainstream European politicians.
“Ask them why [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel is sending migrants back to Afghanistan,” said MEP Dzhambazki. “It means that we were right.”
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