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Weekly Roundup of Political Events: March 19-25

Sofia, March 19 
Opposition GERB party leader and ex-prime minister Boyko Borissov, his former finance minister Vladislav Goranov and GERB Media Adviser Sevdelina Arnaudova are released from custody on the night of March 18 to 19. They were held up for about 24 hours without any charges. Later that night, incumbent Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov slam the prosecution service for “sabotaging” the efforts to fight corruption. They explain that the arrests of Borissov, Goranov and Arnaudova, which were described by protesters as acts of repression, were a last resort. 
Sofia, March 19 
Day two of US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin’s working visit to Bulgaria. After touring the Novo Selo Training Area and the Bezmer Air Base on March 18, the following day Austin talks with Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and Defence Minister Dragomir Zakov in Sofia. Petkov confirms that Bulgaria will supply no weapons to Ukraine. He tells journalists that he and the Pentagon chief discussed the creation of a Bulgarian-led multinational NATO battlegroup. The United States will commit a Stryker company to the battlegroup. In this context, Austin commends Bulgaria “for its leadership”. Defence Minister Zakov describes Austin’s visit as a milestone in bilateral defence relations. It is the first visit to Bulgaria at such a level in 25 years. 
Sofia, March 19 
Members of the parliamentary Vazrazhdane party hold an anti-NATO protest not far from the Defence Ministry offices in downtown Sofia. The demonstration is timed to coincide with the Bulgaria visit by US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin. 
Sofia, March 19 
The Green Movement elects Vladislav Panev and Dobromira Kostova as its co-leaders at a national conference. The Green Movement is part of Democratic Bulgaria, a member of the government coalition. It emerges that MPs from the Movement will propose to Bulgaria’s National Assembly to invite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to an official online hearing. 
Skopje, March 19 
North Macedonia’s Deputy Prime Minister Slavica Grkovska, who is responsible for good governance policies, shares her country’s experience in establishing an independent state commission for corruption prevention with Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Minister for Good Governance Kalina Konstantinova and Justice Minister Nadezhda Yordanova. The working meeting is attended by North Macedonia’s Deputy Justice Minister Agim Nuhiu and Biljana Ivanovska, President of the State Commission for Prevention of Corruption. 
Sofia, March 21 
The Interior Ministry says it has again submitted draft decrees to indict former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, former Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov and former government PR and current GERB Media Adviser Sevdelina Arnaudova. Meanwhile, the group of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament announces that it is urgently sending representatives to Sofia to get acquainted with the data related to Borissov’s detention. 
Sofia, March 21 
The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) confirms that it has received several reports from Bulgaria with serious allegations of fraud with EU funds and systemic corruption, involving top officials. Investigations are ongoing, EPPO says in a statement. 
Sofia, March 22 
Polish President Andrzej Duda pays a working visit to Bulgaria. His host, President Rumen Radev, says that Bulgaria and Poland are united in their efforts for strengthening NATO’s eastern flank. The two presidents reach understanding on expert teams immediately exploring opportunities to assist Bulgaria to maintain its MiG-29 fighters using the capabilities of the Polish industry and air force. 
Sofia, March 22 
The European Commission approves the provision of 12.78 million euro in support of Bulgarian tour operators affected by the restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The beneficiary companies are entitled to receive 35 euro for each passenger who has paid for their services. The measure covers flights between June 1, 2021 and May 14, 2022. 
Sofia, March 22 
The division of naval special operations of the Bulgarian Navy has started joint training of the type SOF JCET (Special Operation Forces Joint Combined Exchange Training) with formations for naval special operations from the United States and Romania. The joint exercise is underway in Bulgaria and will last until April 1. It is part of the planned joint exercises of the Bulgarian Armed Forces. 
Sofia, March 22 
Bulgaria and North Macedonia sign a memorandum of understanding in the field of youth and sports. Bulgarian Youth and Sports Minister Radostin Vasilev and the Director of the Agency for Youth and Sport of North Macedonia, Naumce Mojsovski, affix their signatures to the document. 
Sofia, March 22 
Prime Minister Kiril Petkov presents his cabinet’s first 100 days in office in a written statement. He points out that his government has been able to maintain steady electricity prices, the same as from the summer of 2021. In April, the government will continue to offer financial support to businesses and raise its ceiling. Petkov talks about the government’s achievement in its efforts to handle the health crisis caused by the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus, about this country providing aid to Ukrainian refugees, and the successful closure of the technical questions regarding the National Recovery and Resilience Plan. The Prime Minister talks about the strong resistance that his cabinet is facing when trying to work in the public interest. 
Sofia, March 23 
Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev asks the Constitutional Court to declare Article 25 and parts of Article 86 of the Rules of Organization and Procedure of the National Assembly unconstitutional. Geshev argues that these provisions extend the scope of parliamentary oversight over the judiciary. 
Sofia, March 23 
The National Assembly approves on first reading the closure of the specialized jurisdictions by government-proposed amendments to the Judicial System Act. The vote is 134-73. 
Brussels, March 23 
Manfred Weber, Chairman of the Group of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament, demands an investigation into the recent detention of GERB leader and ex-prime minister Boyko Borissov. Weber says Borissov was “abducted”. He sees a violation of the rule-of-law mechanism. 
Varna, on the Black Sea, March 23 
Navy Headquarters says Bulgarian Navy ships are taking part in exercises at sea. Between March 22 and 24, ships from the flotilla of battle and supporting ships are performing pre-planned tactical exercises at sea. The corvettes Bodri and Reshitelni, both part of a division of patrol ships, are to participate in a tactical exercise of single-ship action. 
Sofia, March 23 
Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov tells the media that the Specialized Prosecution Office has instituted pre-trial proceedings against Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Asen Vassilev for abuse of office. The proceedings started on March 15 on an alert by businessman Georgi Samuilov, owner of Insa Oil. 
Sofia, March 24 
By passing conclusively revisions to the Bulgarian Residency Act, the National Assembly cuts off the option for acquiring resident status in return for investment. The legislature revokes provisions, according to which third-country nationals could obtain a permanent resident status if they invested at least 1 million leva and could be granted Bulgarian citizenship for a minimum 2 million leva investment without going through the cumbersome and time-consuming standard procedure. 
Sofia, March 24 
In its first annual report, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office says it is handling 98 active investigations into fraud involving EU funds and cross-border VAT fraud in Bulgaria. 
Brussels, March 24 
Prime Minister Kiril Petkov says Bulgaria is summoning its ambassador in Moscow back for consultations. The move comes after Russian Ambassador to Bulgaria Eleonora Mitrofanova told Russia 24 television: “The Bulgarian people do not support either the rhetoric or the actions of the Bulgarian government against Russia”. 
Sofia, March 24 
Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev officially receives a proposal for his early dismissal. The proposal is presented to him by Justice Minister Nadezhda Yordanova after the Plenum of the Supreme Judicial Council adopts internal rules for the early dismissal of the Prosecutor General and the presidents of the Supreme Court of Cassation and the Supreme Administrative Court. 
Sofia, March 24 
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Asen Vassilev hosts a meeting with Greek Infrastructure and Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis. The development of transport and energy connectivity between Bulgaria and Greece is the central topic of the discussion, which is also attended by Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Regional Development and Public Works Grozdan Karadzhov and Ministers Nikolay Sabev of Transport and Communications and Alexander Nikolov of Energy. 
Sofia, March 24 
People gather for a peaceful demonstration in central Sofia to express their support for Ukraine a month after the military conflict started there on February 24. Sofia’s Independence square is filled up by people urging for the military action to stop. The demonstration, organized on Facebook, is mottoed “Together for Ukraine”. 
Brussels, March 24 
President Rumen Radev, who is in the Belgian capital for an extraordinary NATO Summit, tells journalists that Bulgaria is ready to lease second-hand jet fighters from NATO allies until the F-16 fighters ordered from the US are delivered to the Bulgarian Air Force. He notes that maintaining Bulgaria’s Soviet-made combat aircraft in Russia is no longer an option. According to Radev, Bulgaria can provide Ukraine with chemical and nuclear defence equipment. 
Brussels, March 24-25 
During a regular European Council meeting, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov takes part in a joint summit of EU leaders with US President Joe Biden. The focus of the discussion is providing support for Ukraine and the strengthening of transatlantic cooperation in response to the Russian aggression. Talking one on one, Petkov and Biden discuss Russian influence, which, for example, led Bulgaria to spend a large amount of its own money on the TurkStream natural gas pipeline. In a Facebook post, Petkov says that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen “will soon come to Bulgaria to sign the National Plan for Recovery and Resilience”. While in Brussels, Petkov also talks with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis. 
Sofia, March 24-25 
Turkish Trade Minister Mehmet Mus pays a working visit to Bulgaria, leading a large government delegation. Mus and Economy Minister Korneliya Ninova concur that the disrupted supplies of steel products due to the war in Ukraine will be offset by increasing the EU import quota from Turkey. At a separate session, Finance Minister Asen Vassilev and the Turkish guest discuss cooperation in the field of customs services, freight transport transit, energy prices and options for using alternative gas supply routes. Innovation and Growth Minister Daniel Lorer and the visiting Turkish Trade Minister discuss bilateral trade and investments. 
Sofia, March 25 
Vazrazhdane leader Kostadin Kostadinov says the nationalist party is starting preparations for a series of actions against allowing foreign troops in Bulgaria. Kostadinov argues that the Bulgarian people disapprove of the government’s policy. 
Sofia, March 25 
Finance Minister Asen Vassilev receives a World Bank delegation led by Gallina A. Vincelette, Country Director for the European Union, and Fabrizio Zarcone, Country Manager for Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The sides discuss Bulgaria’s further cooperation with the World Bank. 
Skopje, March 25 
Bulgaria and North Macedonia consider possibilities for joint energy projects at a meeting of an interdepartmental working group. The projects include the construction of a new natural gas interconnector Petrich-Strumica and the possibility for North Macedonia to use the gas storage facility in Chiren. 
Luxembourg, March 25 
The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) says that construction equipment worth 6 million euro has been seized in an investigation in Bulgaria. EPPO is investigating nine Bulgarian companies that are suspected of committing fraud to obtain EU funds. 
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