Commissioner Gabriel nominated as Prime Minister of Bulgaria

Sofia/Brussels (BTA) – European Commissioner Mariya Gabriel has been nominated as Bulgaria’s prime minister by the country’s GERB-UDF coalition, which won the country’s fifth snap election in two years.

The European Commission announced that Gabriel is going on unpaid leave and during this time her work will be taken over by Commission Vice-Presidents Margrethe Vestager and Margaritis Schinas.

Manfred Weber, chairman of the EPP group in the European Parliament, expressed his full support for Gabriel and said that the GERB-UDF put the interests of the country first.

In the coming days, Gabriel is expected to continue her meetings with the political forces represented in the Bulgarian parliament to explore the possibilities of support for a government under her leadership. President Rumen Radev announced that he would hand over the mandate to form a government on 15 May.

The first thing Bulgaria’s justice minister in Gabriel’s government would need to do is to submit a request to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) to dismiss (Prosecutor General) Ivan Geshev for undermining the prestige of the judiciary, Gabriel said after her nomination. Geshev’s resignation was among the reasons for the protests in Bulgaria three years ago, followed by several snap elections.

Gabriel set out 10 goals on which she would work: a plan to get out of the political crisis and establish a functioning government, the normalisation of the work of the institutions, a stabilisation of public finances and adoption of a new budget, a reform of the judiciary, the adoption of basic laws, the implementation of a mechanism for investigating the Prosecutor General and the Criminal Procedure Code, reforms in the Anti-Corruption Commission and the promotion of Bulgaria’s accession to the eurozone and the Schengen area.

Gabriel also spoke about tackling inflation and price increases, guaranteeing the country’s energy security, overcoming the backlog of operational programmes, improving the security of Bulgarian citizens, tackling domestic crime, improving road safety, tackling migration and renewing the armed forces. She also stressed the need to move towards a digital and green economy. Things should not even stop there, but go as far as constitutional reform, Gabriel said. (May 10-11)

Qatargate: Tarabella wants to resume activities as MEP

Liège (Belga) – Less than 24 hours after his release by the responsible judge in an investigation into corruption in the European Parliament, Marc Tarabella has issued a statement for the first time since Qatargate broke out. The MEP and mayor of Anthisnes, Liège, hopes to resume his duties. He spoke very emotionally and said his incarceration was the toughest period of his life.

Tarabella had been detained for his involvement in an investigation into corruption within the European Parliament. On Tuesday, the investigating judge ruled that his arrest was no longer required, and detention with an ankle bracelet was ended.

Tarabella gave a press conference at the office of his lawyer, Maxim Töller, a few hours after his release. He still has to comply with some conditions. For instance, he is not allowed to leave Belgium. Tarabella spoke at the press conference about how he experienced everything: the accusation, the investigation, his stay in the cell and the ankle bracelet at home.

Tarabella claims to have been framed by lies from Antonio Panzeri, a man he considered a friend for a long time. Tarabella appeared before journalists with tears in his eyes. “The only reason I am named in this case is because of a statement by a man who wanted to save his own skin,” he said.

Tarabella said he continues to cooperate with the investigation and hopes the case will end in an acquittal or the dropping of charges against him. He hopes to resume his activities as an MEP and also wants to resume his post as mayor of Anthisnes. (May 10)

EU should not have approved Lufthansa aid

Luxembourg (dpa) – The European Commission should not have approved the billions in state aid for German airline Lufthansa during the Covid-19 pandemic, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said. The Commission had made “clear errors of assessment”, judges announced in Luxembourg on Wednesday. The court thus upheld the complaint of competitors Ryanair and Condor.

Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium had promised the Lufthansa Group a total of nine billion euros in aid, but this amount was not retrieved in full. The major part of the sum came from Germany. Six billion euros were contributed by the federally owned Economic Stabilisation Fund (in German: WSF) in exchange for a 20 percent share package and silent participation, while the German state-owned KfW Bank contributed a loan of one billion euros. The six billion euros from WSF were the subject of the legal dispute between the European Commission, Ryanair and Condor.

Lufthansa has repaid the aid, and WSF disposed of its last Lufthansa share package in September 2022, realising a bottom-line profit of around 760 million euros. The silent partnerships and loans, including from Switzerland, had already been reattributed and repaid beforehand and were partly replaced by capital market bonds. Lufthansa returned to profit in the 2022 financial year and was also able to repay the last state aid from Belgium and Austria, seats of its subsidiaries Brussels and Austrian Airlines, at the end of 2022.

The ECJ revoked the Commission’s approval. The competition watchdogs should have examined more closely whether Lufthansa still had its own collateral to obtain loans for itself. In addition, the court criticised that Lufthansa’s market power at the airports had been underestimated. Furthermore, the Commission should have ensured that Lufthansa did not have more market power than before after the aid package, and that effective competition remained in place.

The Commission announced that it would carefully examine the ruling and consider possible further steps. It could appeal against the ECJ’s ruling. (10 May)

MEP Wiener calls for healthy breakfast for all children

Brussels/Strasbourg (APA) – The gap between children who come to school with breakfast and those who come without is widening, according to Austrian Green MEP Sarah Wiener. MEPs adopted a report on the so-called EU School Scheme in Strasbourg on Tuesday. The aim is to give even more children access to the programme and thus to a healthy breakfast in the new programme period starting in 2024, Wiener told journalists online.

According to a British study, pupils achieve good grades twice as often after a good breakfast compared to children with an empty stomach, Wiener said. However, it is not just about “food intake, but about quality” as well. The EU’s initiative for fruit, vegetables, milk and dairy products has been running since 2017 and aims to promote healthy eating for children up to secondary level. According to Wiener, around 15.9 million children across Europe benefited from the EU-funded breakfast in 2020/21, half a million of them in Austria.

The European Commission has proposed a revision, as some criticism of the programme, which expires in 2023, has been raised. For example, over-sweetened drinks such as cocoa and too few regional products were promoted. The bureaucracy is also to be streamlined in the new period starting in 2024, so that more small and regional producers can benefit.

The funds from Brussels, currently around 250 million euros per year, are to be increased. Wiener says it has not yet been decided by how much.

In any case, ten percent of the money should flow into educational measures such as cooking workshops or farm visits. Because fewer and fewer children know what they are actually eating and what the consequences are. At least 25 percent of the food distributed should be organic: “It is important to me that we offer a lot of unprocessed products without additives,” Wiener said. (May 9)

This is a compilation of the European coverage of enr news agencies. It is published Tuesdays and Fridays. The content is an editorial selection based on news by the respective agency.