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THE CABINET LOBBIES FOR FAVOURITE DELEGATES TO THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE

THE CABINET LOBBIES FOR FAVOURITE DELEGATES TO THE COUNCIL OF EUROPEThe Cabinet of Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha stroke off ten years of the history of Bulgaria's European integration and the achievements that the country had made. Bulgaria lost the chance to have its representatives at the 11th session of the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. The Congress is among the three representative institutions within the European Union (EU) and its decisions are resent to the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly. The absence of a Bulgarian delegation deprived the country of the chance to have its representatives to the management of the institution, as well as to send participants in the commissions discussing various problems of the local and regional authorities in European countries several times a year. Besides, the Congress and its commissions represent a strong lever that helps to lobby for financial assistance from the EU for local projects and building infrastructure which Bulgaria needs so much.As it often happens in Bulgaria, money is probably in the centre of the scandal. The problem appeared in mid-April when the Bulgarian Council of Ministers substituted without authorisation a part of the list of delegates to the Congress. The list has been made, in accordance with the regulation of the European institution, by the National Union of Municipalities in the Republic of Bulgaria (NUMRB). The Bulgarian Cabinet dared to change the rules for naming delegates which is quite an extravagant move, considering the fact that these rules were established by the Congress in 2000 and no national government or institution has the right to change them.The ministers of Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha failed to realize that by interfering they would damage the authority of the Council of Europe of which the local authority congress is a part. Each country is represented in it by six main delegates and six deputies. As a rule, the members of the delegations can only be chosen by the national unions of local authorities in the respective countries. Due to a decision taken by the cabinet of Zhan Videnov, the members should also be approved by the Council of Ministers in order to become a national delegation, but that does not authorize the cabinet to change what the union has proposed. According to the NUMRB Chairman Krassimir Mirev, the incumbent Government has substituted eight of the twelve names selected by the union. Two major principles should have been kept when the delegates were chosen. On one hand, the delegation must correspond to the political representation of the local authority in the country resulting from the most recent local elections, and on the other, there should be representatives of all regions in the country. For eight years, Bulgaria has always stuck to these requirements. Following the intervention of the Government of Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, however, both principles were drastically violated. The ministers failed to consider the requirement for political representation and put three delegates from the National Movement Simeon II (NMSII) in the list. According to Maria Stoyanova from the United Democratic Forces (UDF) who had presided the Bulgarian delegation in the past and is currently a member of the Parliamentary Assembly, this is a contradiction to the Congress regulation which only allows delegates from separate parties if they are represented in more than 40 municipalities. The NMSII takes part in the governance of just 11 of all the 236 municipalities in Bulgaria. Besides, by putting new names in the list the ministers violated the principle for territorial representation, because they left both the Northwestern and Southeastern regions without a delegate to the Congress.On the very next day following the decision of the Council of Ministers, the leaders of the union of municipalities asked for a meeting with the Prime Minister but got no answer. After another unsuccessful attempt to contact the Cabinet, the union informed the Council of Europe about the problem. The European institution sent an official request asking the Bulgarian Government for explanation and in turn received no reply. Eventually, in order to avoid the scandal, the Council of Europe made an exception and allowed the substituted delegation to be present at the 11th session of the Congress. However, it requested that right after the session the members of the delegation be changed in accordance with the decision of the union of municipalities. In spite of the permission, however, in token of solidarity and protest against the brutal interference of the Government in the local authorities' business, none of the Bulgarian delegates left for Strasbourg.Eventually, at the opening of its ordinary session on May 25 the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities adopted a resolution inviting the Bulgarian Government to examine, in light of the NUMRB objections, its decision and to approve, no later than September 15, a new delegation that will represent the country in the Congress commissions and structures in the next two years. Sergey Stanishev, Chairman of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), forecasts that there will be no problems this time. Rulers nowadays should be influenced by external factors, he added. That is why he is convinced that the reaction of the Council of Europe will force the Cabinet to correct its decision.Experts define the absence of the Bulgarian delegation as a precedent in the ten-year history of the institution. In the past, this has only happened with countries in a crisis or in a complicated political situation. Such as Georgia and Cyprus, for example, which now have good reasons, according to their partners, for failing to send their delegations.

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