Germany’s elections are largely a non-issue in Bulgaria, where political life is consumed by a three-month long mass protest demanding the Socialist-led cabinet’s resignation. Germany is also absent on the main foreign policy issue that preoccupies Bulgarians: the war in Syria, which affects Bulgaria thanks to refugees crossing from Turkey. Politicians and pundits alike break spears unpicking the policies of Russia, UK, US, and France, but German foreign policy passivity keeps the country off the radar screen. That’s surprising, as Bulgaria has often taken clues on European matters after looking closely at Berlin. What is more, the centre-right government of Boyko Borissov, in power until March this year, courted Angela Merkel, extolling the virtues of fiscal discipline and pointing at the low debt and budget deficit run by Bulgaria.
The reason why German elections are not such a hot issue is that Sofia has almost no demands vis-à-vis the EU, now that the financial framework for 20014-20 is a done deal. Joining the eurozone is off the table for the foreseeable future, despite the fact that the Bulgarian Lev is pegged to the common currency. There’s also no credible prospect of joining Schengen now that Syria is looming not far from Bulgaria’s border. Nor is anyone in Sofia, whether in government or in opposition, looking at being Schengen’s outer frontier as a cause worthy of fighting for and celebrating.
Apathy might give way to engagement in the unlikely case that the forthcoming German government, whatever its composition, pushes hard for a reform of EU institutions. Bulgaria’s interest is in not being relegated to second-class membership and fully excluded from EU’s advance guard. Germany will then become a key point of reference. But, understandably, such a turnaround is not imminent.
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