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Media Review: December 7

24 Chase, Sega, Mediapool quote Prime Minister Denkov, who gave a high assessment of the government for the past six months since the beginning of its mandate. Despite the many political scandals and turns in management, Denkov argued that the ministers are a good team that manages to work on important matters. The Prime Minister considers the main contribution of the Cabinet to be the controlled inflation, the improved incomes of the people, and the first steps of the justice reform. Denkov did not mention scandals in recent weeks surrounding individual ministers, Sega noted. 
The Prime Minister said that out of the 687 measures in the government’s 18-month programme, more than half, about 60%, are expected to be completed by the end of February. These are related to improving inflation, beginning a justice reform, large-scale decentralization of the funds for municipalities, the first medical helicopters and new ambulances for emergency assistance, the Kozloduy NPP Block 7 project, the unblocking of the construction of roads and highways, measures to combat the demographic problems. Investments in the economy increased by over 50% compared to 2022 and exceeded BGN 6 billion, Denkov stressed. 
Duma publishes an opinion by expert Borislav Angelov, who commented on the very controversial proposed change of the Bulgarian national holiday from March 3 (the Day of Liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Oppression) to May 24 (Day of Slavonic Alphabet, Bulgarian Enlightenment and Culture), tabled by Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria, GERB-UDF, and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. Angelov called it a political move that caused polarization instead of unification, especially after President Rumen Radev took the opposing position and called for a referendum. Meanwhile, the topic quickly lost its relevance after GERB said that they would not support the change. Angelov pointed out talk of plans to create a new political party centered around President Radev around the referendum, using signatures of petitioners. Angelov called this “political engineering by the presidential institution” and stressed that  “destruction of the party system, and hence of the political system, will continue in full force”. Instead of being a mediator, an intermediary in resolving the political crisis, President Rumen Radev became part of the problem, an active participant in the election process, (there was even an OSCE report on how he specifically intervened against BSP and other parties), the political analyst stressed. 
Sega, Mediapool, 24 Chasa quote Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) Chair Delyan Peevski, sanction for corruption under the Magritsky Act, who was not pleased with the Market Links and Alpha Research sociological agencies for reporting his lowest approval rating among politicians (8% and 6%, respectively). He called these results “the last refuge ploy of failed politicians”. 
Mediapool, 24 Chasa report that, according to GERB, the MRF will receive 1/3 weight in the appointment of people in the regulators and special services. Continue the Change – Democratic Bulgaria (CC-DB), however, stressed that nothing has been agreed upon yet.
24 Chasa publishes a comment by National Assembly Chair Rosen Zheliazkov on the air of bTV, who urged power-holders, CC-DB, GERB-UDF and MRF, not to be ashamed of being in a coalition. “As long as this majority supports the Cabinet, we will have a coalition government,” he argued, noting that “if someone loses their nerve, it is very likely that we will go to an election”. “There are important challenges ahead,” he stressed, adding that the upcoming vote on changes in the Constitution and the adoption of the 2024 Budget are the most important matters until the end of the year.
In its morning programme on Thursday, Bulgarian National Television hosted a discussion between political experts Tatyana Burudzhieva and Petar Cholakov, who commented on the current political situation. Burudzhieva noted that there are people in the government who want to concentrate on accomplishing its tasks, like Prime Minister Denkov and future Prime Minister Mariya Gabriel, but that the Cabinet is made up predominantly of ministers who do nothing, some of whom cause controversy. Cholakov said that, according to the opposition, the Cabinet is neither without alternative nor necessary, but it seems that this was the only possible political option. He added that confidence in the National Assembly is shockingly low. The internal party and the fights between the partners in power waste a lot of time.
Multiple publications on Wednesday focus on the controversy surrounding the dismissal of Valentin Dimitrov as Director of Sofia’s Pirogov emergency hospital due to irregularities found in an audit by the Health Ministry inspectorate. On Tuesday, the Health Ministry said that he would be replaced by Konstantin Dimov until a new competition is held. The GERB party then threatened that they would no longer support government projects in Parliament and blocked the adoption of the state budget for 2024. 
Duma reports that the medical board of the Pirogov Emergency Hospital sent a statement to the government expressing strong disapproval of learning from the media about the changes in the hospital’s management. They noted that a staff of 2,500 medical professionals deserves to be notified timely by representatives of the Ministry of Health.
Trud, 24 Chasa, Telegraph, Mediapool quote Health Minister Hristo Hinkov who said that Pirogov’s financial loss is currently BGN 31.4 million, 7 million more than in 2022. The amount of the company’s equity capital is below that of the subscribed capital. This means that it is currently decapitalized. “I stand by my decision,” Minister Hinkov stressed and noted that he does not carry out political orders, but that legal violations have been established in the hospital by its executive director and, based on the audit report, dismissal decisions were made. The step was consulted with the Prime Minister and the parliamentary Healthcare Committee Chair, Hinkov said.
Trud, 24 Chasa quote parliamentary Healthcare Committee Chair Kostadin Angelov who denied that Hinkov consulted his decision with him, and called these statements a lie.  Angelov called Dimitrov’s dismissal  “political repression”, as “some time ago, he defended the doctors and nurses at Pirogov from the arrogant behavior of an adviser in the Ministry of Defence”. Angelov speculated that the current situation is revenge for that and added that “the CC-DB party, whose belief is freedom of speech, democracy, pluralism, etc., is punishing a person who defends doctors and who dared to speak publicly”. 
Mediapool quotes Finance Minister Assen Vassilev, who said that “if a minister cannot secure support for the policy they are carrying out, it is best to resign instead of making spectacles and blocking the state”. Vassilev specified that it was not his job to demand the resignation of Hinkov, but with his statement, he practically took the side of GERB and MRF against the Minister of Health.
In a bTV interview on Thursday morning, Health Minister Hinkov said that he will not resign, and that he will not consult professional decisions with political leaders.  “I am not making spectacles, I’m doing my job,” he stressed, adding: “If I don’t make these decisions regarding the Pirogov case, I may be accused of imprudence”. Hinkov argued that Pirogov, the largest emergency hospital in the country, has been on the decline for 10-15 years, and that is why many good specialists are leaving. He added that Healthcare Committee Chair Angelov has been the most resistant towards his decision, and Angelov took part in the conversation via phone, to ask Hinkov not to “use him as a fig leaf to hide behind”.   When asked why he did not report about the management changes in Pirogov sooner, Hinkov answered: “I knew what would happen.”
Together with Romanian and Austrian colleagues and a sign “Bulgaria Deserves to Be a Schengen Member Country”, MEP  Ilhan Kyuchyuk led a demonstration in the Austrian capital to support Bulgaria’s accession into Schengen and convince the Austrian government not to use their veto for domestic political purposes, reported BNT.
 24 Chasa and Trud quote Vazrazhdane party leader Kostadin Kostadinov, who said that the  European partners of GERB-UDF, CC-DB and MRF are the ones not letting Bulgaria into Schengen. These are the Austrian People’s Party, which is a member of the European People’s Party and is a partner organization of GERB and MRF, as well Mark Rutte’s party in the Netherlands, which is a partner of MRF and Continue the Change in ALDE. Kostadinov noted that the leading parties do not recognize this fact.
Telegraph and Trud report that the merchant ship Galaxy Leader, which was hijacked last month by the Houthis, has become a tourist attraction in Yemen. Dozens of locals give tours on and around the ship, even take selfies. The vessel is anchored in the Houthi-controlled port of Al Salif in the Red Sea, Reuters reported. The crew members of the Galaxy Leader cargo ship have been allowed “limited contact” with their families, the company that owns the vessel said. The captain of the ship and the first mate of the ship are Bulgarians. The 25-member crew also includes sailors from Ukraine, the Philippines, Mexico and Romania.
The Houthis have carried out several attacks on ships in the Red Sea since the conflict between Israel and Hamas broke out nearly two months ago in a show of support for the Palestinian Islamist movement. On Tuesday, the United States, Japan and the Bahamas called at a meeting of the International Maritime Organization for the unconditional release of the ship.
Telegraph reports that Bulgarian Patriarch Neophyte, who is being treated at the Military Medical Academy for lung disease,  is conscious, and his condition is improving, quoting Metropolitan Cyprian of Stara Zagora.
Telegraph, Trud report that by the end of November, the Bulgarian Border Police prevented around 176,000 attempts by citizens of third countries to illegally enter the territory of Bulgaria, which is a 13% increase compared to the same period in 2022. The Interior Ministry said that 99% of migration pressure remains at the Bulgarian-Turkish border (about 175,500 attempts). Since the beginning of 2023, the employees of the Interior Ministry have detained 17,186 illegal migrants at the entrance, exit, and within the country. Most were citizens of Syria and Afghanistan.
Trud quotes Defence Minister Todor Tagarev, who said, prior to his hearing at the parliamentary Defence Committee, that the army has no interest in the armoured transport equipment that Parliament decided to provide to Ukraine. On Monday, President Rumen Radev vetoed the donation, as there was no sufficient objective assessment of whether the equipment was no longer necessary to Bulgaria.
Trud, 24 Chasa, Mediapool report that the parliamentary Defence Committee did not support the president’s veto “We have been debating the topic for more than half a year, and these machines from the Interior Ministry have been declared redundant and have not been needed for years,”  Defence Committee Chair Hristo Gadzhev told journalists. He added that the Interior Ministry even tried to sell the machines in question, but there was no interest. “You need everything when you are at war,” said Gadzhev in response to the opposition’s questions about why Ukraine needs this equipment. The Bulgarian state has much more modern equipment, he added. 
24 Chasa reports that it is not yet clear how much it will cost to transport the armoured transport equipment to Ukraine.  Defence Minister Todor Tagarev also noted that the issue of who will cover the expenses has not been discussed. The organization is assigned to the ministries of Defence, Interior, and Transport and Communication.
24 Chasa writes that the Ministry of Defence will pay the first installment of USD 263 million in its deal to buy 193 Stryker armored combat vehicles from the United States. The government allocated the money to the military budget on Wednesday. Payment of the first installment must be made before December 15, while the special offer from the US government is valid. The total value of the contract is USD 1.3 billion. The rest of the amount will be paid in equal annual installments. The first new armored vehicles are due to arrive in 2025.
Telegraph, Sega, Trud report that at an extraordinary meeting, the Parliamentary Committee on Energy did not accept the revocation of Russian oil derogation granted by the European Commission (EC) to be as early as January 1, 2024 or at the latest on March 15, 2024. Despite the rejected decision, the proposals will be submitted directly to Parliament. 
Duma reports that Lukoil officially announced that it is considering the sale of its Neftochim refinery in Burgas, Given the significant change in the conditions for carrying out the activities of the Lukoil group enterprises on the territory of Bulgaria, the company has started work on revising its strategy regarding this asset. With the help of international consultants, various options will be analyzed, including the sale of the business, the company said.
Trud, Sega, Mediapool write that Parliament decided to create an ad-hoc committee on the agreement between Bulgarian gas supplier Bulgargaz and Turkish energy company BOTAS. The committee will be set up for a period of two months, during which it will clarify and analyse the terms of the agreement and its effect, direct and indirect, on Bulgaria’s energy system, as well as the contracts concluded for gas supply in Bulgaria over the last year.
Duma quotes BSP for Bulgaria MP Borislav Gutsanov, who, addressing the ruling majority in Parliamengt, said that the chaotic decision-making in the energy sector, the lack of analysis, and incompetence have led to contracts that do not protect the state’s interests, and that is why the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) insists on the establishment of a  parliamentary committee to investigate all energy deals of the last governments and specifically those concluded by the office of President Radev signed a contract with the Turkish company BOTAS. The socialist explained that the state currently consumes less than 3 billion cubic metres of gas per year, but with 1.850 billion cubic metres from Botas, 1 billion cubic metres of Azeri gas and 1 billion cubic metres of gas from Greece, Bulgaria pays for just under 4 billion cubic metres.  Gutsanov pointed out the fact that the European Commission has also started its own investigation into the Bulgarian companies Bulgargaz and Bulgartransgaz because of the contract with BOTAS, and if a violation is found, huge fines will be imposed on the two state companies. 
In a NOVA interview on Thursday morning, Gutsanov expressed similar statements. He called the contract with BOTAS  disadvantageous for Bulgaria. It was concluded for a period of 13 years old, without the Energy Committee of the National Assembly being informed, as well as the National Assembly. If it breaches the contract, the penalty for Bulgaria will be over USD 2 billion. In this way, the Turkish state company can enter the entire gas transmission network of this country and reach the gas transmission network of the EU. For this reason, the EC is also taking action regarding this contract.
Mediapool and Trud write that Parliament adopted at first reading changes to the Oil and Petroleum Products Stocks Act, which corrects the previously accepted obligation of economic operators to store 100% of their stocks of oil and oil products on the territory of the country. The reason for changing the bill is that it would benefit a company in the industry that holds most of the warehouses. The bill also provides for increased penalties for the denial of storage capacity. The submitted proposals were made by GERB-UDF.
Trud quotes Prime Minister Denkov, who said that inflation has dropped to pre-war levels. In October 2021 it was 6%, and in October 2023 it was 5.8%. 
Sega writes that the Affordable for You initiative, which was advertised by the Minister of Economy, is emerging as a complete failure. Many large and small retail chains chose not to participate, and those that did, simply put the campaign logo here and there, with no significant decrease in prices, said the publication. The initiative aimed to achieve permanently low prices of essential products for Bulgarian consumers.
24 Chasa quotes EPP/GERB MEP Andrey Novakov, who informed that an exception will be made for Bulgarian rose oil and it will not fall under the scope of the European Chemicals Classification, Labeling and Packaging (CLP) Regulation, after an the agreement reached between the European Parliament and the Council regarding the new EU rules, which provided that in the future essential oils will be defined and labeled as dangerous to health. “This is another, but extremely important step towards the final success for Bulgarian rose oil and for our country as a whole, after the entire sector of rose production, processing and trade was threatened by the intentions of the European Commission to impose a mark of harm and danger on our pure product and livelihood with centuries-old traditions,” Novakov said. The agreement reached is the result of a breakthrough by the Bulgarian MEPs during the EP plenary session in Strasbourg in October. Then the Bulgarian delegation of only 17 MEPs managed to attract the support of over 300 of their colleagues in defence of Bulgarian rose oil.
Mediapool reports that a ground station for connecting low-orbit satellites to the optical network and data centres in Bulgaria and Europe has entered commercial operation in Stara Zagora. The facility is the fourth of its kind in Europe, and one of 35 worldwide, and puts the city on the world map of space technologies and communications. The project was implemented by the Bulgarian telecom Vivacom, part of the United Group, and by the Eutelsat Group, one of the world’s leading providers of satellite internet.