Thursday, July 17, 2008

Something rotten in Bulgaria, but also in EU agriculture

In its Bulgarian variant, democracy means that people elect rulers entangled in corruption and organized crime and then the country is shaken by an endless row of corruption and crime scandals, till the next elections. The current scandal is a really juicy one. Let me quote Daniel McLaughlin's article Bulgaria likely to lose EUR 500 million in funding because of corruption, published on July 17 in Irish Times:
"Fears are growing in Bulgaria that the European Union will withhold funding next week to punish it for its failure to tackle organised crime and corruption... Sources who had seen drafts of the EU reports told Reuters that Bulgaria would probably be stripped of some EUR 500 million and be threatened with future losses unless it intensified its fight against corruption and cleaned up the way cash from Brussels was spent... The funds to be withheld relate to agricultural, road-building and technical assistance projects that have already been frozen due to graft investigations by EU anti-fraud agency Olaf. Yesterday's Bulgarian newspapers were full of striking details from a supposedly confidential report sent by Olaf to Bulgaria, in which the government is accused of having links with alleged criminals, and state agencies are lambasted for their lack of co-operation in corruption inquiries. The Olaf report... focuses on one particular "criminal network composed of more than 50 Bulgarian enterprises and various other European and off-shore companies"... The report said the network was run by two businessmen, one of whom "allegedly financed the election campaign of the current Bulgarian president"... "There are powerful forces in the Bulgarian government and/or Bulgarian state institutions who are not interested in punishing anyone from the circle around (them)," Olaf concluded. Prime minister Sergei Stanishev denied that the group had state protection and accused the EU of overstating the corruption problem in Bulgaria."

I have little doubts in the accuracy of the Olaf report and wouldn't want to defend Bulgarian government, president, police and judiciary. However, I would like to ask some questions.
First, why the hell was the report supposed to be confidential? Who has decided that European taxpayers shouldn't know how their money is tunneled astray and we Bulgarians don't deserve to know what is happening in our country?
Then, why is agriculture in EU supposed to be subsidized in the first place? Shouldn't farmers concentrate on their farming business and finance it by selling their crops at the free market? Why are they forced instead to waste their time and energy on paperwork in order to obtain subsidies? Why are ordinary Europeans burdened with excessive taxes to pay subsidies to farmers who are best at filling paper forms (rather than at farming), and also salaries to bureaucrats who process these forms and shuttle them from one desk to another? And isn't it clear that the entire industry of subsidies is an excellent growth medium for corruption?
Probably countries with developed civil society and rule of law can afford the EU subsidizing industry without sinking into the quagmire of corruption (though the quagmire of inefficiency will remain). However, countries like Bulgaria haven't much rule of law. And while ordinary citizens are struggling with Third World-like poverty, EU subsidies only serve to further enrich the gang that is ruling the country.

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