Monday, 13 June 2011

Meglena Kuneva on the lack of transparency in Bulgarian politics: "We can't go on like this!"

Shortly after officially stepping forward as a candidate for the presidential elections, the first Bulgarian Euro commissioner Meglena Kuneva talks about her independence as a candidate and explains what motivates her to run for the position and how she intends to achieve her goals.

She first stepped into the spotlight in 2001, when she was a member of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) party. NDSV was hugely popular when it came to power but, since then, its support has deteriorated year upon year and, at the moment, it is 3% and it is unlikely to have a strong comeback.

Kuneva, however, has remained a popular figure and, according to the sociological research, carried out by Gallup International, the only potential candidate with a higher rating is the current PM - Boyko Borisov. If he puts himself forward, he would receive 35%, whereas she would have 26% of the votes. At the same time, Borisov's candidacy is unlikely, because the presidential post is a representative one and doesn't hold nearly as much power as the prime-ministerial one.

In the current situation, this means that Kuneva leads the race and she's better off as an independent candidate. She has a strong platform, which appears to address the main issues in Bulgarian politics - the economy and the still ubiquitous presence of corruption on all levels of the state. Appealing though it seems, her manifesto may well prove to be overly ambitious for the limited powers of the Bulgarian President.

Mrs Kuneva, you say you are an independent candidate, but how are you going to convince people that you haven’t got any hidden business or political agendas?
In politics there is only one answer to that question and I don’t hold a monopoly on it. It’s called transparency. But equally, I am a politician with 10 years of experience behind me. And during those 10 years I have proved that I am a transparent politician. I haven’t appointed anyone for political reasons, I don’t have economic interests of my own, nor do the people that are close to me. So this is a good starting position. 

Still, where does the money for your campaign come from?
It hasn’t yet, but it will be raised in a lawful manner. I won’t hide that the Institute of Modern Politics has helped me a lot so far. That is why, wherever I went, there was a banner behind me, showing the three foundations that took part, the Friedrich Naumann foundation, the Institute of Modern Politics and the Liberal Institute for Political Analysis. There were always representatives from these organisations present and we have always explained what they are doing. There are a lot of volunteers as well.

You are not looking for the support of a political party, but what if it is offered to you?
This would be the party’s decision. I haven’t been offered support so far. Backing a candidate is discussed within the party structure and the parties talk to their supporters. I think there should be a deep understanding within our society about the goals I am setting myself. Party derives from “part”, whilst I want to unite the pro-change majority. And this majority can come from a lot of different backgrounds. But a direct support from a given party... if this had been my formula, I would have followed it. The fact is that I haven’t.

You talk about transparency in government and lifting up the curtain. Which presidential powers are you going to use in order to achieve this?
Not the powers, but the practice. If it was just a question of powers, it wouldn’t be possible. Every power can be executed transparently or non-transparently. The appointments that are made within a system, for example the presidential quota within the constitutional court, could be effected on a competitive basis, it could be done following a wide debate within the guild.

But you also talk about transparency outside the presidential institution, in bodies like the parliament...
Yes. At least to lay the foundations and then year after year we can develop to our full potential. You can’t make a good law about business without consulting business. You can’t make a law about students without consulting the students.  In times of such deficit of vision and ideas for change, to ignore the vision and ideas of the people is an utterly unaffordable luxury for Bulgaria. We have to get energy and knowledge from somewhere. And control, to correct them on the way.

All this, in my opinion, can be achieved best by bold actions on the part of the people.

So how would you lift the curtain off the shady public orders?
If the president cooperates with the parliament and the government, he or she can raise these issues. The president couldn’t calculate the electricity bills. Here’s something that they keep on overcharging us for. And it’s not the government’s fault. But the president can choose not to remain silent when the people are being lied to. The president can voice his/her opinion. He/she can insist on a debate. No government, no institution could resist if there is a strong, well-structured public interest, backed by the president, for more transparency, for more action in one sphere of life or another.

The public opinion is a great force. You are a journalist. You don’t have direct powers, you can’t make a decision on this or that matter. But the media’s interference, in fact, opens the way for a better, more transparent practice. And this is raising the curtain, which hides the authorities.

But someone has to take the first step and go the whole way. It can’t be possible for us to not be able to do that. And we can’t go on like this! These two statements are equally true and they are the source of my ambition to take that first step.

There have been accusations that you haven’t worked entirely in Bulgaria’s interests during the negotiations about its accession to the EU and you have also been severely criticized for not taking your mandate as an MEP. Do you think that, in the eyes of the Bulgarian people, you may be a candidate, who is too European and not enough Bulgarian?   
No, I don’t. I think that Bulgarians are Europeans and their support for our entry in the EU was constant and decidedly large. Actually, it’s the fact that I achieved this goal, of which generations have dreamt, gave me the courage to carry on and ask them for so much trust and support in these elections.
When it comes to the negotiations, for that period of time, for the EU in that shape and for the fifth expansion, they were flawless. I am ready to go through them page by page and word by word and to keep on explaining what and why we have negotiated.

What bothers me is that we have acquired only 10% of the negotiated by us 13 billion leva (£5.8 bln) worth of subsidies. After we had accumulated enough trial-and-errors. Let us say that during the first year things didn’t work properly, because we didn’t know enough. Year after year we learn from our mistakes. Yet, unfortunately, things haven’t changed a lot. 

About me not taking my position in the European Parliament...  Look, it was so clearly in my personal interest to take that position, that it excludes any possibility for anyone to say that I was being led by my personal interest.

I stayed in order to finish the mandate as a commissioner. I stayed because of the other 300 million that I managed to get for the Kozloduy nuclear power station. If I hadn’t done that, the money would have either disappeared or wouldn’t have been given then, there would have been a gap between 2009 and the new financial framework and we would have lost a lot.

Also, it wasn’t right for the Bulgarian commissioner’s place to be left vacant for months during its first mandate.  

So as a president you could influence directly the amount of money we manage to receive?
Saying that I can directly change the degree to which we assimilate the money is an overstatement. But yes, I can! I can influence with a clear judgement, with a more united effort from everyone: the Council of Ministers, the business, the boroughs, the government... Also, I can use my influence in the EU itself. But, frankly, we have a lot of well-wishers out there. But we need to give them enough good arguments for them to help us. And I can do that, yes.

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