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Sofia view: Oil pipeline cancellation questions

Call it a trial balloon, call it a U-turn, but something is brewing in the complicated and crucial world of oil pipelines. Vedomosti, a Russian business daily, just announced that Russia may walk out from the Burgas-Alexandroupoli oil pipeline. Sources from Trans-Balkan Pipeline B.V., the joint venture set up in 2007 , suggest that Transneft, Rosneft and Gazprom Neft are now in favour of the alternative route that runs between the Turkish ports of Samsun and Ceyhan, to bypass the clogged straits between the Black and Mediterranean seas. The formal decision is due on Thursday, 17 February.

To be sure, such a decision would surprise few. The current Bulgarian government is not keen on the project, which it inherited from their predecessors, now in opposition. The transit fees (€30-50 million a year) would have been enough to offset potential risks to the environment and Bulgaria’s

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Sofia view: the ingredients for a successful revolution

As protests sweep Cairo and other big cities in Egypt for a seventh day in a row, parallels with Eastern Europe circa the autumn of 1989 are aplenty.  Gerontocrats facing a wave of popular discontent, plummeting living standards,  unbound aspiration for a better life vs. the utter political bankruptcy of the system and, dare I say, a distant hegemon unwilling to cast its lot and prop up deluded rulers clinging to power until the bitter end. But what makes Eastern Europe particularly relevant is not so much the reminiscences of revolutionary fervour, not even the domino effect from one country to another but the pragmatism of what came next.

This is an old, old story told first by the “transitologists”  writing on the momentous developments in Greece, Portugal and Spain in the 1970s. The key to success in a move to a democratic regime is the pact, tacit or open, between moderates

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Sofia view: Never a dull moment in Kosovo

Kosovo is still a long way from becoming a boring affair. In the wake of the early elections on 12th December, a report by the Council of Europe made allegations that senior politicians, including the leader of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) Hashim Thaci, were implicated in an organ-harvesting ring.  The story about the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) executing Serb POWs has been around for quite some time, but this was the first time that a high-profile international body such as the CoE has taken a stance.  Even if the claims are not proven, this is a major embarrassment for both Prishtina and the EU plus its large rule-of-law mission (EULEX). Catherine Ashton has called on Dick Marty, the former Swiss prosecutor behind the report, to provide evidence.

There might be a silver lining to the scandal. The PDK and the other groups, perhaps even the runner-up in the elections,

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Sofia view: Enter the dragon

A stream of news from Europe’s East. Out of the blue, EU-hopeful Serbia decided not to attend the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony and honour imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Facing Brussels’ ire, Belgrade then mde a U-turn and dispatched the ombudsman, Saša Janković.

“This had nothing to do with a payback to China over Kosovo?” was the question The Economist’s Tim Judah shot to Prime Minister Mirko Cvetković.  Cvetković: “No, nothing to do with Kosovo”.

The premier’s answer was probably disingenuous, but only up to a point. Back in February, Beijing and Belgrade struck a deal to upgrade the thermal power plant at Kostolac (Serbia’s second largest), with China’s EXIM bank offering a loan to cover 85% of the 1.25 bn dollars project.  On 7 December,  Energy Minister Petar Skundrić and Chinese officials  endorsed a follow-up agreement for the first tranche to  the tune of

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Sofia view: The draw of the Euro

These days Bulgaria is trying to stay afloat amidst the deluge sweeping across the Balkans. It is desperately scrambling to stay dry and reach the safe grounds of the EU’s inner sanctum. Several days before the National Assembly passed next year’s budget, Simeon Djankov, the finance minister, toured Western media to showcase the country’s adherence to fiscal prudence (BBCWall Street Journal). Indeed, with a projected deficit at 2.75% of GDP and with a public debt to GDP ratio of 17%, the World Bank’s ex-employee felt confident enough to criticise the EU’s big boys over not letting Bulgaria into ERM2, the euro’s coveted antechamber. Gone were the days of summer 2009 when Eurostat found Bulgaria’s deficit figures to be twice of what had been reported. The Greek scenario is not in sight, Graeca sunt non leguntur, government says. Fair enough, but one should not overlook the fact that

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