ELECTORAL CODE: BULGARIA EASES RESTRICTIONS ON POLLING STATIONS ABROAD
Bulgarian lawmakers have backtracked on a blanket ban on opening polling stations outside of Bulgaria's diplomatic missions to other countries.
BULGARIA'S COMPETITION WATCHDOG FINES TWO REGIONAL TV, INTERNET PROVIDERS
Under the new rules approved on Thursday afternoon, the restrictions will not be in force for the territory of the EU where there are embassies or consulates.
In EU countries where no diplomatic missions of Bulgaria are present, stations will be opened where at least 100 Bulgarian nationals have submitted an inquiry.
In non-EU countries (such as the US, Canada, Russia, and Turkey), polling stations can also be opened outside embassies, but only a single station located in cities whose population is bigger than 1 million if there is no diplomatic mission of Bulgaria in the respective city.
MPs modified the controversial Electoral Code amendment following mass protests from Bulgarian communities abroad. The Patriotic Front, a nationalist coalition that has no ministers in the cabinet but backs the governing minority coalition, was adamant a restriction to the number of missions would curb the influence of voters in Turkey, where tens of thousands of Bulgarian nationals have traditionally cast ballots in favor of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), with some now possibly switching to the new DOST party.
However, Bulgarians living in Western Europe or the US, whose combined number outweighs those in Turkey, said the move restricted their options to cast a ballot, especially in light of another decision by Parliament which made voting compulsory.
Vast sections of the new amendments, including a ban on publishing results of opinion polls throughout an election campaign, sparked outrage from the public, prompting emergency talks of political leaders with Prime Minister Boyko Borisov to discuss possible concessions.
On Thursday, the last workday of the week as Orthodox Easter holidays begin the next day, lawmakers had fervent discussion on election laws being in a hurry to pass all the required texts of the electoral code.
It was the opening of polling stations abroad, rules for holding referendums, and the implementation of voting with electronic machines that raised tensions among lawmakers during and following a meeting of the Legal Affairs Committee around noontime.
A number of lawmakers objected to the decisions of the committee whose report had been submitted to the floor of Parliament, claiming that the committee had held no session over the past few days.
According to Parliament Speaker Tsetska Tsacheva, the mysterious committee meeting had been held before 10:32 local time on Thursday morning - the moment it was tabled.
The holding of any session at the Legal Affairs Committee was contested by MPs from both the opposition and parties that are in or back the cabinet.
Bulgaria's Commission for Protection of Competition (KZK) has imposed sanctions on two regional TV and Internet providers for practices amounting to unfair competition.
NetWorx Bulgaria and Nordelink Bulgaria have been fined with respectively BGN 358 620 and BGN 94 020, the sums amounting to 3 % of the net revenues and sales of each company during the previous year. read more
GAZPROM PUTS FORWARD NEW SOUTH STREAM ROUTE
Russian energy giant Gazprom has tabled a new option to revive the South Stream pipeline, local media report.
COMPETITION FOR NEW TOURIST LOGO OF BULGARIA FAILS TO SELECT WINNER
Alternative routes are being studied for South Stream and Nord Stream II which would possibly use private funding, instead of counting on EU support, Vesti Finance quotes Andrey Konoplyanik, adviser to the head of Gazprom Export, as saying.
The new pipeline could possibly start from the Crimean peninsula, which Russia incorporated in March 2014. The previous version was to begin from Anapa, with an estimated length of the underwater section measuring 781. Crimea is closer to the Bulgarian Black Sea, and the project would be cheaper.
Additionally, a revived South Stream would not use the route to Central Europe through Serbia and Hungary as initially planned, but go through Greece and then offshore to Italy.
"Russia is in its right to look for gas export routes that pose the smallest risk to the fulfilling of contracts," Konoplyanik reportedly told the audience at a Central European gas forum in Bratislava.
South Stream, a gas pipeline project that was to bring 63 billion cubic meters of gas annually into Europe via Bulgaria (entering the EU through the Black Sea port of Varna) and Serbia, was abandoned in December 2014, with Russian President Vladimir Putin blaming the European Commission for pressuring Bulgaria. The latter had refused to issue building permits for the pipe's offshore action, days before construction was to begin, as the EU Commission and Russia were at odds over the non-compliance of South Stream with liberalization rules.
A possible setback for the "Crimean" option of South Stream is that Bulgaria does not recognize the peninsula as part of Russia and calls for the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
The announcement comes after Gazprom signed in March a memorandum of Understanding with Greek DEPA and Italian Edison SpA, which allowed for gas deliveries to Italy via Greece and "third countries". The latter expression could practically mean only Bulgaria (one of Greece's two neighbors to the east) in the context of Russian-Turkish tensions over a downed fighter-bomber.
Separately, several weeks ago it was revealed Austrian company Strabag was working on a tunnel beneath the port of Anapa where pipes would be laid. Speculation grew that Russia might be seeking to both provide Crimea with gas and make South Stream shorter and, as a consequence, cheaper as the economy is going through hard times. read more
A fifteen-member jury, including representatives from the media and the tourist sector as well as marketing and PR specialists, failed to select a winner in the competition for a new tourist logo of Bulgaria.
None of the seven shortlisted entries managed to garner majority of the votes cast in each of the two rounds held on Thursday. read more
BULGARIA, US BEGIN PREPARATIONS FOR JOINT AIR TRAINING “THRACIAN EAGLE 2016”
Eight F-15 C/D fighter jets from the 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard were relocated on Thursday to Bulgaria's Graf Ignatievo Air Base.
The jets were relocated for their participation in the joint Bulgarian-US air training “Thracian Eagle – 2016”, the press service of the Bulgarian defence ministry informs. read more
EX-DEFMIN APPOINTED HEAD OF BULGARIA'S DEFENSE INSTITUTE
Todor Tagarev, a Bulgarian defense expert who served as interim Defense Minister in March-May 2013, is taking over as head of a key R&D and training institute with the ministry.
BULGARIA, ROMANIA 'NOT CLOSING IN ON REST OF EU'
Tagarev was appointed to the office by Minister Nikolay Nenchev on Wednesday, the Defense Ministry's press service says.
The Defense Institute, bearing the name of aviation engineer Tsvetan Lazarov (1896-1961), is the country's single state-owned institution using some of the know-how of the former military research and development agencies that were active during the Cold War. It is tasked with preparing analyses of the state of the Bulgarian Armed Forces and helping implement documents synchronizing Bulgarian military standards with those of NATO.
It is also a higher education institution accredited to award doctoral degrees in a number of fields related to military equipment.
Bulgaria's environment has deteriorated in terms of democracy and governance over the past year, lagging behind Romania and remaining last in the EU, an annual index comparing EU members and accession countries shows.
A report prepared with the Catch Up Index also reads that "The EU10+1 countries [all that joined after 2004, Croatia included], with the exception of Romania and Bulgaria, are better off and closing in on the rest of the EU."
The Southeastern European country as an overall score of 34, after Romania (36), Greece (38) and Croatia (41) and ranking 29th (Iceland is also included in the index and is placed 8th). The the first three countries, Luxembourg, Sweden and Denmark, have 71 points each.
After Bulgaria are Montenegro (32), Serbia (27), Macedonia (27), Turkey (25), Albania (21), and Bosnia-Herzegovina (20), Iceland being the only potential candidate that is not at the bottom of the table.
Its slump in press freedom and corruption rankings makes it lead only on the Western Balkan countries and Turkey.
The Catch Up Index, prepared by the European Policies Initiative and the Open Society Institute Sofia, "aims to answer the question: are the ten "new", post-communist member states of the EU - the EU10 - catching up with the "old", "Western" EU members?"
Measuring levels of convergence or divergence in four categories (Economy, Quality of Life, Democracy and Governance), it also shows results of potential candidate countries.
Studying the 35 countries it covers, it looks focuses on wealth, economic and financial development, social and health issues, strength of democracy, governance, rule of law, corruption and crime levels.
BULGARIAN MPS KEEP PROVISION ALLOWING SIMULTANEOUS HOLDING OF REFERENDUMS, ELECTIONS
The Bulgarian parliament reversed its decision on one of the amendments to the Electoral Code it had adopted last week, which stipulated that referendums and elections should not be held simultaneously.
Thus the MPs upheld the earlier provision which had allowed for referendums to be held simultaneously with elections if the latter are to take place in the same year as the former has been initiated. read more
BULGARIA TO TEST ONLINE VOTING IN 2018
Remote online voting will have its first experimental introduction starting 2018, Bulgarian lawmakers decided on Wednesday.
The emergency session of full Parliament, that has been holding marathon debates and votes since Tuesday to pass a final version of the new Electoral Code, was the first to set a clear timetable for e-voting after the latter was overwhelmingly approved in a referendum last year.
A total of three tests will be held throughout 2018, each in a single Bulgarian region. If they prove successful, online voting will be officially introduced as a legitimate means to take part in an election for the 2019 European Parliament vote. By 2018, electoral officials will have to organize at least three simulations of online voting with fictitious parties, coalitions and candidates.
Voters who choose to cast a ballot online will be registered on a special website and will have to leave an email appress for contact.
BULGARIA'S STARA ZAGORA ALSO BANS WEARING OF FACE-COVERING VEILS IN PUBLIC PLACES
If a voter casts a paper ballot after having used the online option, the latter will become void.
The text was passed by a majority of 118-6 with three abstentions. The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), was the political force that openly opposed online voting, asserting that it was an easy target of manipulations.
But Parliament Speaker Tsetska Tsacheva said that, although the vast majority of MPs had their fears about the system that will be built up to ensure transparent online voting, the step should be taken for the sake of progress.
"Every novelty raises concern. If it weren't for the cavemen who showed their hands out of the cave, where it rains, lightning strikes, and trees fall, where would humankind be now?"
The main coalition partners, Prime Minister Borisov's conservative GERB and right-wing Reformist Bloc, were at odds over the right time for the introduction of e-voting. While GERB maintained it should be applied as early as the presidential election last year, the Reformist Bloc made clear more time would be needed from a technical point of view to ensure there would be no misuse of the system.
It was online voting that triggered the process of amendment to the Electoral Code, leading to subsequent controversial changes that include the introduction of compulsory voting and rules for deresigtration and re-registration in the electoral rolls. read more
The municipal council of the Bulgarian city of Stara Zagora banned on Thursday the wearing of accessories concealing the face and hampering recognition in public places.
The proposal was made by councilors from Bulgaria's largest ruling party GERB and one of the parties supporting the coalition government, the Patriotic Front (PF). read more
FOR FIRST TIME WOMAN WILL HEAD BULGARIA'S PENITENTIARY SYSTEM
For the first time a woman will head the Bulgarian penitentiary system.
This became fact after Gergana Georgieva was appointed as general director of the justice ministry's General Directorate Execution of Punishment. read more
HEAVY TRAFFIC ACROSS BULGARIA AS PEOPLE EMBARK ON TRIPS FOR EASTER
There will be heavy traffic and heightened police presence on Bulgaria's motorways and main roads on Thursday afternoon as most people are embarking on their trips for the forthcoming Easter holiday, which will last between April 29 and May 2.
More than 200 000 vehicles are estimated to leave Sofia on Thursday afternoon, with the heaviest traffic expected at the exits of Sofia, Trakia, Hemus and Struma motorways as well as the I-1 (E79) road between Sofia and Kulata border checkpoint at the border with Greece. read more
BULGARIAN MEDIA 'PARTLY FREE' - FREEDOM HOUSE REPORT
Media outlets in Bulgaria are partly free along with most countries in Southern and Southeast Europe, the 2016 Freedom of the Press report shows.
The country has received 40 points in the Freedom House report's ranking (zero being the best result and 100 being the worst). It has performed better than all of its neighbors except for Romania (28 points) and than all the Western Balkan countries. Media in two of the neighboring countries, Turkey and Macedonia, are ranked as "Not Free".
However, placed in an overall European context, Bulgaria has ranked 32nd (out of 42 countries included), after Romania and Italy and ahead of Hungary and Montenegro.
Three of Bulgaria's neighbors (Turkey, Serbia and Macedonia) suffered the largest declines in press freedom compared to other part of the world, alongside Bangladesh, Burundi, France, Yemen, Egypt, and Zimbabwe.
“Media freedom declined not just in repressive societies but also in Europe... Journalists in much of Europe had to contend with new threats from terrorists as well as new surveillance and security laws that could hamper their work,"
Freedom of the Press research director Jennifer Dunham is quoted as saying.
The report also notes that "global press freedom declined to its lowest point in 12 years in 2015, as political, criminal, and terrorist forces sought to co-opt or silence the media in their broader struggle for power".
Another Freedom House report issued earlier described Bulgaria as a "semi-consolidated democracy". read more
BULGARIA MPS REVOKE BEACH CAMPING BAN IN 2ND READING
Lawmakers have reversed a ban on beach camping out of specially designated place which was voted earlier this spring, but sparked protests.
BULGARIA'S DIMITROV SECURES TOUGH VICTORY OVER WORLD'S NO. 194
The latest amendments are prepared to match public expectation that a set of rules and regulations should be introduced with regard to beach camping.
The earlier text reads that it is forbidden to put up a tent less than 100 m from the coastline.
However, as the legislation existing before the ban also described beach camping as "illegal" (since no movable objects could be placed in the same area), MPs decided earlier in April to leave it to the Tourism Ministry to elaborate rules and propose them as amendments to the Tourism Act.
The recently adopted amendments that Parliament revoked on Thursday had envisaged fines of between BGN 1000 and BGN 10,000 (EUR 500-5,000) for camping and parking at a distance of less than hundred meters away from the beach.
The blanked ban triggered protests in Bulgaria's capital Sofia early in March. read more
Bulgaria's highest-ranking tennis player Grigor Dimitrov made it on Wednesday to the quarterfinals at the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Open tournament in Turkey, defeating qualifier Adrian Ungur (Romania).
The match lasted two hours and 14 minutes, with second-seeded Dimitrov winning a hard battle against Ungur that ended 7:5, 4:6, 7:5.
Local sports websites note that a number of mistakes on behalf of Dimitrov, currently 29th in the ATP rankings, had put a clear victory into question.
His next opponent will be Jiri Vesely (Czech Republic), who is ranked No. 63, who defeated the world number one Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo earlier in April.
Last year, Dimitrov made it to Istanbul Open's semifinals. read more
BULGARIAN AUTHORITIES DETAIN 29 MIGRANTS NEAR VRATSA
During a specialised police check conducted by officers from Vratsa, Bulgarian authorities detained shortly before midnight on Wednesday 29 migrants travelling in a minibus in the direction of Vidin.
The migrant group consisted of one woman, thirteen minors and fifteen men coming from Afghanistan and Pakistan. read more
BULGARIA PARLIAMENT EX-OFFICIAL FACES RENEWED TAX EVASION TRIAL
Former Deputy Parliament Speaker Hristo Biserov is to appear before court again on Thursday to face charges of tax evasion.
He is also to be tried again for undeclared currency deals and undeclared bank accounts held in Switzerland.
Last year the Sofia City Court found him not guilty, but prosecuting authorities appealed.
A two-year investigation resulted in all three charges being dropped against him.
However, the prosecutor's office said even before the sentence was read that it would refer to the Sofia Court of Appeals.
A separate probe into money laundering was suspended without charges being pressed as it hinged on information from authorities in Switzerland (one they did not provide), where prosecutors alleged he had millions in hidden assets.
Biserov was a also a Deputy Chair of the liberal Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) and was Parliament Deputy Speaker at the time it was the junior coalition partner in a government with the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP).
In November 2013, he resigned from the office, left Parliament, renounced all positions he held in the DPS structures, and quit the party without citing any reason.
Pretrial proceedings into tax evasion and money laundering were launched a few days later. read more