Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

A gaffe with PM's statement about Nabucco and the budget deficit

Ralitsa Kovacheva, Adelina Marini, September 24, 2010

Full and overall surprise has caused the news that Bulgaria wants the contributions for the construction of the Nabucco pipeline, due by EU countries participating in the project, to be recognised by the Union as targeted costs and not be included in the national budget deficit. As euinside wrote, we learned about this by the official press release of the Bulgarian government press office. Even more surprising was the fact that this position had been expressed by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov not in Brussels or Sofia, but in Washington, during a meeting with the U.S. Special Energy Envoy for Eurasia Richard Morningstar.

euinside immediately sent questions to the European Commission, where we received a reserved reply from, saying “any information about an official request from the Bulgarian authorities to recognise the contribution for the construction of Nabucco as a targeted expenditure has not been received so far, so no comment is possible.”

Although we've sent our questions to the Commission and to the Bulgarian government press office simultaneously - on Tuesday morning, September 21st, the result is completely different. On Thursday morning, the government press office had no idea whether they had received our e-mail or not. After a check, an officer found out that it had been received but so what. Upon our insistence that we receive a reply by the end of the day, we were told that this was only in the competence of the Chief of the Public Relations department of the Council of Ministers, Nikolay Boev, who is in the U.S. with the Prime Minister.

In order that you will not remain with the conviction that we had asked our colleagues in the press office to reveal us a state secret, here are our questions:
- Is the mentioned Bulgarian position officially exposed to the EU and if yes, how and when?
- Are there any comments by the Commission so far?
- Is this request supported by the other EU countries participating in the Nabucco project?
- Is there any informal discussion on the topic and if so – with whom?
- If the position had not been declared officially on a European level, will it be done, and how?
We expect answers to these questions by the end of the day.

And while we are waiting, let’s deliberate a bit:

What is the procedure with meetings of the type between Premier Borissov and ambassador Morningstar, especially when no statements will be made after it? Usually a press officer attends the meeting and than prepares a press release. It is logical that not everything that had been said “tête-à-tête" must be announced publicly, so probably there is further control on the text prepared for the media.

How is the work in the government press office organised we can only speculate, especially in this case. The fact is, however, that in the seemingly trivial message, after the middle of it and presented as a background, the following sentence is written: "The Prime Minister Boyko Borissov explained to Special Envoy Morningstar the position of our country on the construction of the Nabucco project, namely - the contributions due by the EU countries participating in the construction of the pipe to be recognised by the Union as targeted costs and not be included in the national budget deficit." No matter if the person who had written this was aware or not how serious this particular sentence is, the entire text means at least three things:

That such, if not a position at least an idea, currently exists on an unofficial level.

For some reason the Prime Minister had decided to share it, firstly in Washington instead of Brussels, which by itself is confusing.

And the public announcement of this information is a serious gaffe.

Not that Bulgarian media have noticed it at all, except for us and the Sega (Now) daily. On the contrary - Bulgarian media showed a remarkable ability to read (re-write) the press release almost verbatim, omitting precisely the news in it. In no way I would say this was intentional, but it is a manifestation of the complete lack of interest in similar topics of Bulgarian media.

According to euinside's information so far an official Bulgarian position has not been approved. It is possible that such an issue is being discussed with the idea the moment with the other similar request, backed by Bulgaria, to be used - the costs of pension reforms to be deducted from the budget deficit.

In response to our question what is the status of the letter of 9 EU countries, the European Commission explained that “the EU Member States are having an ongoing discussion on methods of calculation and accounting. Any change to European Accounting Standards needs to be decided by consensus. The discussions will continue in the task force chaired by Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, as well as in the informal ECOFIN meeting of Finance Ministers due to take place in the end of the month.”

Although not said in the plain text, the clarification that such a discussion is going on only between Member States, suggests that this issue is not on the agenda of the Commission. Therefore, we could guess what the reaction would be to the Bulgarian request the costs for Nabucco not to be included in the calculation of the deficit as well, even if such a request is not only Bulgarian. Because it is clear that the only option is to seek a coalition with the other EU countries participating in the project. Whether such conversations are being held, we expect to see.

Later on euinside you can read the government press office explanations (if any)as well as a comment on the issue by euinside.

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