Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

We walk on money, but still we are poor

Adelina Marini, May 1, 2010

I don't know if you remember but around Bulgaria's joining the EU (January 1, 2007) someone said something that turned into a common phrase and was related to European funds' absorption - "the money is on the ground, we just need to bend down and take it". I can't remember whose phrase was this but I am almost certain that it came out of the NDSV party (the party of the former Bulgarian tsar and prime minister Simeon Saxecobourggotta) who were then part of the government. This phrase is not only valid today but it spreads well beyond the European funds, which against what I am going to tell you, look like a small pile of cents.

They are saying there is no money, right? The budget is suffering from a constantly developing hole. It is even something like a black hole - it absorbs everything and turns it into energy (simply because nothing gets lost in nature, it only passes from one condition into another). Is that right? Not, it is not! There is so much money that we can throw it to each other all the way to the International Orbit Station. "We just have to bend down and take it".

What is the catch? Yes, I have to admit that there is a catch but it is not unsurmountable. We just need to work a little bit more.

Seriously - the money is everywhere around us. I, for example, am walking the sidewalk of a street in Sofia or another big Bulgarian town. All of a sudden I encounter an obstacle, big and difficult to overcome - a car, second, third, fourth. I get down on the street where I am stuck in mud and the drivers pass by me, splashing me with mud, cursing at me - "don't you see the sidewalk you bitch?" What can I tell him? It is more than obvious that there isn't or at least - it is busy by someone like him.

In the same time a friend of mine told me the following story: a friend of his has a cafe but this year he did not take any tables out on the sidewalk in the perfect sunny and warm weather. Why? Because the municipality asked him to pay 400 levs (200 euros) for all the necessary documents, allowing taking tables out, among which a permission by the Traffic Police. Initially I got surprised. I said to myself - why on earth are the Traffic Police concerned about the sidewalks. The reason is very simple - because the sidewalks are for pedestrians and if they are occupied by something else, people will go down the street, thus endangering the safety of the traffic. Simple, ah?

So these are the first piles of money - you have no idea how much of it - you can get a vague idea by the photos, collected by the members of several designated to the issue groups in Facebook. And what does the latest version of the Traffic Legislation say about it? In article 94, paragraph 3: "Parking and stay over is allowed on sidewalks for cars less then 2.5 tonnes only at designated by the owners of the road or the administration places, in parallel with the road and when 2 meters are left between the car and a building, enabling pedestrians to pass by".

And article 183 envisages a 10 levs fine (5 euro) for a driver who parked illegally on a sidewalk. The same fine is applied for a number of other violations which are often performed in Bulgaria. I have to admit that I found the latest version of this law much more liberal than the one that was valid when I had my driving license. Nonetheless, 10 levs is 10 levs and when you multiply this sum by 100,000, for example, the number starts looking good. And this is only from wrong parking.

Let's pass on to other violations which really irritate but are never punished. Unfortunately, for them we will have to work harder, especially legislators in Parliament. You have probably heard some of your far-sighted friends or acquaintances who did what's necessary to flee their home country just because they could not wait for Bulgaria to start looking like Europe. They went to Europe, again, but in it's better part. Where they constantly get letters, informing them that their account lost 100 euro, 285 euro and 24 cents, 55 euro and so on. All of these are fines for various violations of traffic laws.

In most of these cases, the violations were registered by a camera, the findings of which are never appealed, disputed and never go into court. You were photographed PERIOD. But it wasn't me - we are sorry but you have a responsibility for your own car and you should be cautious who you give it to. But they stole my car - then why didn't you report it to the police? I was in a hurry - so was the pedestrian whom you hit and who, unlike you, will not be able to reach his final destination soon. Alright, here you are boys 20 levs (10 euros) - unfortunately you cannot say this to a letter you found in your mail box. And if you are smart enough not to live at the address you've stated before the administration, than your account will lose weight no matter if you know about it or not.

But if want information why your account lost money - the state machinery (literally machinery) will print a piece of paper, quoting the exact date and hour of your offence, you will see a photo enclosed and you will see the administration bidding you a nice day and be careful next time. Although the latter they might spare because the budget needs your money. And if you have plenty of it - go ahead, drive and bare the consequences!

Now let's come back to the amount of the fines. I gave up quoting the Traffic Law because it is desperately liberal because of weird arguments: we cannot raise fines too much because people will not be able to pay them. How come? Of course, they can - if someone does not have money, then he will have to work for N days, cleaning broken glass from traffic accidents in the street, to plant flowers for cleaner air, to paint the streets, to repair the pegs on sidewalks, broken by some smart drivers who wanted to park their car. The problem is solved - if not money, at least you get useful labour!

So, a fine must correspond to the offence and not to the pocket of the offender.

And here is more money - you walk the sidewalk with your brand new shoes and oh no, you step over a dog's poo (I am not looking for a better word because the words I have in my mind are much worse and after all a poo is a poo no matter how you call it). What can you do? Currently nothing but if the state wanted to take your money it can do the following: there is a hotline which has reached most citizens through the well known methods (advertisement). You call the hotline and say: "I am at this and this street, this and this number and I just ran over a poo".

The people at the hotline localize the municipality and send your request there. An inspector is immediately sent in the area to ascertain the poo, he looks at the list of people living in the nearby apartment house and all the animals registered there and says - ahaa, these people have dogs. Everyone is fined. Not fair? It is very much fair. The state and the municipality cannot waste resources (human, material and financial) to investigate whose dog the poo is.

You have a dog, the sidewalk is in front of your apartment house - it is your responsibility to clean it, so do it! But it is not mine - it is not mine either but it is on my shoe! If you clean it though, next time when you see a dog pooing calmly on the sidewalk and the owner is not interested, you can tell him: "Excuse me, but why the poo of your dog is so important that I have to clean it for you or take it home well smeared on my shoe?". Here you have more money. 10 levs a poo - do you have any idea how much money that is? And the effect of the money?

Let me go on further - your tights get torn on a bush that is hanging a meter within the sidewalk and you are in a desperate rush for a meeting. In fact, this is a real case from Germany. You call the hotline again and say: "this is the case, this is the street where people have not cut their bushes and a child might tear its eyes while running". And again, the wheel is turning and boom! all the people living in that apartment house with the pretty garden wake up with a big fine and clippers, cutting their bushes. This is a lot of money!

Broken tiles in front of a shop on a central street? You pass by and sprain your ankle or your feet are poured all over with mud water, collected below the broken tiles. Fine! This is also a lot of money simply because this is EVERYWHERE!

The central heating company is changing the pipes. It is late with the deadlines, for which it diligently informed citizens with signs all around the place. Fine! Immediately, inevitably, with no right to appeal! Then the company did not clean the tonnes of sand which the spring wind is bashing into the eyes of people. Fine!

The cleaning companies have chosen cheap garbage containers with enormous lids which need two to open and close. Again the spring wind, which cannot be quelled, is taking from the garbage papers, bags and other things out and is spreading them here and there. Fine! The company must find a way the litter to remain in the containers. Tramps dig through the garbage and throw away whatever they don't find useful. These people are easy to catch and are not that unfortunate as they seem - labour! Cleaning, arranging, washing, polishing. For a second offence - again and again and again. It will get in the sodden with alcohol brain. After all people succeed in taming dogs for a negative time, why not succeed in making tramps more socially responsible?

I can list more and more things, but the suitcase with the money became heavy. Now let us think what can we spend the money for? I leave this to you. I'm tired, really! It was a lot of bending, collecting, the money is so heavy. Until tomorrow. Tomorrow we will go to another place and there we will collect a lot of money. I promise!