Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Meet the Greens :) Part II

Adelina Marini, June 17, 2009

My conversation with Andrey Kovachev, the leader of the youngest party - the Bulgarian Greens, was interrupted by a phone call. The coincidence was that the phone interrupted in exactly where we started discussing the elections programme of the party a little more in detail:

- The economy also has an influence. Do you have any specific ideas in this direction?

ANDREY KOVACHEV: At the moment the economic crisis gives us a very strong signal that we have to look for new directions for creation of jobs and these directions the Greens have notified clearly and named them - green jobs in the so called green economy. And even the conservative and right parties have started to talk that this is something worth thinking about, because this is a field that is now intensively developing and in a situation of economic crisis, if it is supported it might be the locomotive that would take us out of the crisis.

What is it all about? Things that the other parties in Bulgaria, regretfully, avoid to talk about. Let's take the example of the development of Renewable Energy Sources (RES), the development of a real market of RES in Bulgaria because at the moment there is no - there are monopolies, big companies that can invest. Decentralised system, supporting the independence of the households and the buildings, a market for this through, let's say a system of no-interest loans to help people invest. Because initially this is a big investment but it pays back.

The production of the devices - we, in Bulgaria, at the moment produce photo-voltaic panels for electricity which we export in Germany because there's no market in Bulgaria. There it is a large niche. In Germany whole big industrial complexes have been converted to such production and they have more jobs now just because they have reacted in time. And we, at the moment, you know what we do with our giants and how we try to save them instead of searching for new opportunities?

- But does this require some special training of the workers?

ANDREY KOVACHEV: The change of qualification is easy. The question is the economic mechanisms to be created that would establish the market and that would give preferences for such production. This is a large niche for new jobs. And not only, but this helps something else - the energy balance of the country, the independence but not based on monopolies that suffocate people but based on the individual independence, the family independence, the buildings' independence which is incredible.

Other directions for such a development is the small and medium producers and farmers. AT the moment in Bulgaria there are artificial monopolies which suffocate those producers through a system of artificial rules, introduced only to create this situation. In all European countries there are systems for lower parametres for registration - in other words hygienic norms for local small producers and the producers of traditional products. At the moment in Bulgaria these norms are so hight that they kill the small ones - they just cannot work legally. This artificial monopole is the reason for the non-quality production and kills the small producers. This is something, which if changed, only in a year can lead to more quality. These are typically green jobs because it is directed to very small family farmers who will sell near their homes, will not make any transport expenses but they will sell a lot of quality products, made by natural things.

Another element, which is by the way, basic, whichever product we take - the milk for example or the cheese. In Europe when a local brand is created and is being protected within the EU this is made not to invade foreign markets but to protect the quality of your own. This is a kind of protection. When you put a requirement that is you make cheese out of palm oil you cannot call it cheese, then you will force the producers to make it out of milk so as to call it cheese because no one would want to by a white product made of palm oil. Then we would not be forced to import meat like mad from abroad, we will not import palm oil etc. Here you are more green jobs.

The tourism is also a priority. What do we have at the moment? Absolutely chaotic development combined with a large grey construction field which, probably, is above 30% of the GDP but neither is sustainable - they are ready to punch a large balloon because this construction does not create a quality product which can, then, pass on tourism but creates complexes which we will have to destroy later. All this requires state regulation like in France - they have developed country tourism on the basis of the existing buildings and infrastructure, just further developed. We shouldn't construct large hotels all inclusive or to sell properties but we have to develop what we already have. Thus we will develop country tourism, like in France, which is a large part of the GDP - this is the most expensive type of tourism in Europe.

Thus we will avoid desertion of regions. Here you are more green jobs. But all this requires the interference of the state at the planning level and then the private initiative should take over. We don't have this in Bulgaria - everything is a kind of pirate business, with no long-term vision just fats and large profits. But the added value that should help local communities is gone. This is the sustainable development and this is the philosophy, included in our programme, unfortunately, only in our programme.

- OK, but how much time is needed so that these things could be realised, have calculated?

ANDREY KOVACHEV: Well, to make good planning in the field of tourism we will need a year or a year and a half and then, using the financial resources of the EU, in fact this programme would be the criteria for how the European funds are being spent, because all projects would comply with this programme. And, may be, in a year and a half or 2 the investments could start. And with regard to the RES, unlike the big monopoly production, they start paying back from the moment of installation. So, in a year quite a lot of changes can be made so that this process could start. Only a year is necessary, or may be a year and a half, to achieve significant progress on all this we just talked about if there is political will.

- But doesn't RES require change of energy infrastructure which is quite expensive?

ANDREY KOVACHEV: No, not that much because at the moment the problem is that we transfer energy from the producer which is a big factory to the consumer and this transfer system is ineffective. That is why I mentioned decentralised system of production when you literally install on the building where you live photo-voltaic panels to produce your own energy, you could install solar batteries to produce warmth or, if you have the preconditions, you can install a thermal pump to pump the heat of Earth and all this in combination in one common system. This is something which gives you the opportunity for people to consume their own energy. And, if you can, you can sell to the system. Now there is monopoly and you have to have choice so as to sell. A change in the current legislation would be pretty enough to achieve this and the situation would be totally different.

- But a simple change in the legislation is not enough, it need to be applied and this requires a thorough change of the resources of the state or, as it is now modern to call it, the administrative capacity. And this would take time.

ANDREY KOVACHEV: Definitely. No matter how much time this would take if there is political will, it can happen. The question is that there is no political will at the moment.

- And the resistance of the lower administrative levels?

ANDREY KOVACHEV: No, I think that the resistance doesn't come from there, it comes from the political class. I'm confident because at the moment in Bulgaria the low levels are not of any significance. Our administration is build in the form of a pyramid - each decision in every ministry is being taken by the political peak of the pyramid - every decision! And this makes the administration totally ineffective if it was a company it would have long ago been bankrupt. But it washes away responsibility by imposing a grey political umbrella over each decision. Thus, it is the political class that is responsible for this and should be held an account for. Yes, indeed, we need and administrative reform, but if there is political will and in spite all this lack of sensitiveness of the administration, these things could have happened. It's just that there's no wish.

- Our experience from the past years of party construction shows us that a lot of qualified people can be attracted and still the problems to remain. How do you intend to exercise control on party level when your party grows up, when you create local structures so that you do not screw up, to put it straight?

ANDREY KOVACHEV: We are too small yet to think about this. We don't have many people yet. But this problem, at the moment when we cross over the 4% barrier, will come very soon and will become pressing. For me the mechanism is clear - civil control, outside one. I would want to create, like in the state, outside intense civil control in the party as well. In other words we will propose to all civil organisations, initiative committees, all active groups, citizens and individuals the possibility to control directly everything that's going on within the party. From that point further our political responsibility would be to hear those signals and have a feedback.

- There is one more question that I consider very important - education.

ANDREY KOVACHEV: There are many points in our platform dedicated to the education and the most interesting of them, if I have to generalize from the point of view of the system - this is to make a better interconnection between the elementary school, high school and the universities - they should' be separate entities which have nothing in common. We need better shaping which should start as early in high school. As a principle in our educational system - this is exactly what the main problems is. The different stages of education are totally cut off from each other and this leads to constantly declining quality. And the second thing is that we need to think about quality instead of quantity. The third item should be and increased role of local authorities, the mayors and the school boards in the processes of reform of the elementary and high school as well as direct involvement of mayors in the school boards so that they can take their responsibility for what is going on in schools.

- And the content of the school books?

ANDREY KOVACHEV: We need animation of what pupils study at school and to pay special attention to civil and environment education because the environment is one of the basic human rights which people should know because it would define the lives of the next generations. They should also know the cataclysms that might follow if we don't pay attention and that's not pleasant. I also want to see that children know what public debate means, where such debates take place, what their civil rights are. But they have to practice this, to taste democracy.

- The Blue coalition even proposes an obligatory matriculation in civil education. Do you share this idea?

ANDREY KOVACHEV: For me, not the matriculation but the taste of real life. They should take part in a public debate somewhere, do you understand, the real life - to touch it with their hands in their class. Because we had the following situation - some teenagers, 17 years old passed by our stands and I started talking to them about the role of the local referenda and how this could stop buying of votes and the rules of the game would change immediately because there won't be all-power authority if there are obligatory referenda on all issues that are related to the local communities. And they didn't know what a referendum was!

- For some years now there are voices in support of the obligatory voting but given the Bulgarian mentality, do you think such an idea is a good one?

ANDREY KOVACHEV: This is not a solution, you cannot achieve anything by force. The system should open toward people and they should see need to participate in the process. Again, this is an attempt to curb with the consequences and not the reasons. And the reason is in the distance between people and the place where the decisions are being taken. This distance should be shortened as much as possible. Only then people would want to participate in the process. The first thing that need to be done would be the introduction of obligatory local referenda - each month 10-15-20 things should be subject of voting and people to say yes or no. This would force the authorities to go to people because, if they don't, they will lose all the referenda and will not be able to do anything for the community.

If some wants to build a highway, he should ask the relevant local community where the highway is going to pass through to get an approval. You will see how the way the state works will change. All this closeness will die simultaneously. The buying of votes - also. I listen to them in Parliament - talking about how difficult it is to curb with this buying of votes phenomenon but they all think about the consequences. No one tried to identify the reason so as to deal with it. And the reason is the all-power of those who invade the local Parliament or become mayors. Get rid of this all-power, put them under civil control and the things would be 100% different! We, the Bulgarians, are not worse than the Swiss but we live under worse rules.

- But they are much longer able to exercise their rights, how prepared are we to face this civil freedom?

ANDREY KOVACHEV: It will happen! I have seen whole villages to protect their rights but they lose the battle because of the bad legislation and they lose confidence. Civil society shouldn't be created it should rise on its own. There is no way to create it, this is nonsense. How much money was spent on projects to create civil society? Did they create it? No! Relevant conditions are necessary, the soil need to be plough and we have the seeds. We just need some ploughing, we need laws which give chances. Then it will rise by itself, the Bulgarians are enough capable to do this. But at the moment the soil is not ploughed, it is covered with concrete. The way we have covered our Black Seaside with concrete, the same way we have covered the opportunities of people to change something in the country.

- Let's go back to the beginning so as to finish. You said that you are still not many and cannot bare the responsibility that is falling on you. If we assume that you cross over the 4% barrier and you enter the Parliament, you will have to answer the question - most parties import Bulgarian specialists and economists that have proved themselves abroad, financiers and experts. Do you have enough human resources?

ANDREY KOVACHEV: We have a lot of very good experts in the fields that are related to regional development - not macroeconomics but the fields that are specific, from which the life of people depend on: agriculture, farming, forestry, regional development, alternative forms of tourism, like the recreational tourism - we have people with practical experience in. So, this is what we can offer and they can take decisions to help the small and medium business which is our aim. But we are not neoliberals, let me be clear. We do not support total liberty. We support small and medium business when it is socially responsible.