The Bulgarian Presidency priorities were highly appreciated by the Members of the European Parliament
Maria Koleva, Strasbourg
Clear horizon on what will lead the EU agenda next six months outlined Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, presenting the priorities of the first Bulgarian Presidency of the Council, at the EP plenary in Strasbourg on 17 January. The key focus of this term is laid on the future of Europe and young people, on the European perspective and the connectivity of the Western Balkans, security and stability, and the digital economy and skills needed for the future. Borisov also declared that normalisation of EU-Russia relations, in the context of a pan-European solution, will be sought during the Presidency.
Oligarchs are using the scheme with which they plundered state-owned companies to now cheat us out of our democracy
Controlling the entry and exit points, this is the scheme with which the behind-the-scenes clique in Bulgaria first fleeced the state-owned companies at the end of the last century and then privatised them for one lev/dollar during the Ivan Kostov cabinet. The ideologists behind the first stage of plundering were “the left-wing capitalist” Andrey Luka­nov and his cronies.
 
The club of Bulgarian oligarchs who have pooled finances and media outlets in a bid to destabilise the country has gone as far as attacking Brussels in its attempt to stave off the looming retribution for its members' crimes. Ivo Prokopiev, Tsvetan Vassilev, Ognyan Donev and Sasho Donchev, the first three of whom have been indicted, are obviously extremely concerned by the planned changes to the constitution that will lift the time limits for launching legal proceedings regarding crimes connected to the privatisation process, the measures designed to stop the secondary plunder of CorpBank's assets that have been approved at first reading.
 
Mounting calls to reverse Brexit
Top EU officials made a series of remarks last week showing that a Britain move to reverse its Brexit decision would be welcomed. The remarks came after floating speculations about possibility for a second referendum in the UK. The idea of a new vote following the June 2016 Brexit referendum was emitted a week ago by Nigel Farage, a leading Brexit campaigner.
EU targets recycling as China bans plastic waste imports
The environmental impact of plastic is finally receiving the EU attention it deserves. Following China's decision to ban imports of “foreign garbage” from the start of 2018, Brussels on 16 January launched a plastics strategy designed to change minds in Europe.
May, Macron reach new border deal
Britain will pay tens of millions toward border security in France and support French military missions as part of moves to bind the countries closer together after Brexit.
EU needs resilience to Russian propaganda
In a topical debate at the plenary last Wednesday, MEPs voiced an alarm about Russia's increasing propaganda influence on Member States, and suggested strengthening The East Stratcom, EU's strategic communication team, the EP press service reported.
Propping up SMEs, innovation projects
Maria Koleva, Brussels
The EIB, the bank owned by the EU countries, in the last year approved a record number of 901 projects, supporting SMEs, emboldening innovation, propping up crucial infrastructure construction works and tackling climate change. In digits, practically €30bn went to small businesses and about €14bn were infused into innovation undertakings.
Europe must follow its own way on Iran
Ellie Geranmayeh
The past week of nationwide demonstrations in Iran, the largest in almost a decade, surprised many of the country's political leaders and elites. The endurance and repercussions of the protests are uncertain, but they have already shined an unwelcome spotlight on widespread domestic frustrations at a delicate time for President Rouhani's foreign policy legacy.
Nord Stream 2: More hot air than gas in the pipeline
Noah Gordon
Gazprom, the state-owned Russian gas giant, wants to build a new gas pipeline, known as Nord Stream 2, in the Baltic Sea between Russia and Germany. Critics correctly point out that Western Europe would benefit from cheaper gas, while Central and Eastern Europe would still be too reliant on gas delivered through Ukraine. But Europe is less vulnerable to “the Russian gas weapon” than ever, and the threat to some Member States can be mitigated if the EU continues to build a better-integrated, better-connected gas market. If built, Nord Stream 2 would follow the path of Nord Stream 1, doubling the route's capacity, and enabling Western Europe to import more gas as indigenous production declines. The backers of the project are Gazprom, the state-owned Russian company, and five energy companies from Germany, France, the UK, and the Netherlands.
Turkey readies anti-Kurd war
The Trump administration is backtracking on its description of a planned new security force in north-eastern Syria amid escalating threats by Turkey to launch a cross-border assault against the Kurdish group involved. It is clear now that the US is not wholesale leaving the country, but instead planning to train up a 30,000-strong force to assist local Kurds in keeping a grasp on the land they now control northeast of the Euphrates River. US officials had originally described it as a Border Security Force that would guard the perimeter of the self-proclaimed Kurdish enclave taking shape in north-eastern Syria. With the fight against Islamic State winding down, the US envision that the establishment of the force would be stationed eastward, policing the militants' traditional smuggling route between Iraq and Syria, as well as passageways with Turkey to the north.
Prominent Serb politician in Kosovo brutally assassinated
The leader of the Serbian Civic Initiative party in Kosovo, Oliver Ivanovic, was last Tuesday murdered in front of his office in Kosovska Mitrovica, news wires reported. The 64-year-old moderate Serb politician, a rare voice for coexistence of ethnic Albanians and Serbs, was shot six times with a Zastava M70A pistol and later died of his wounds in the local hospital. There were no witnesses to the shooting and Ivanovic was found lying in the street. According to a prosecutor in Kosovo, he was shot from a passing-by car.
France to block data, AI takeover
France plans to expand a law protecting its “strategic” industries from foreign takeovers by adding technologies such as artificial intelligence to the list, economy minister Bruno Le Maire said last Monday. “Make no mistake, France is an open country and we want to make France attractive” to foreign investors, he said, but noted that “openness does not mean pillaging of our technologies, our know how, our talents.” In 2014 France passed the so-called Montebourg law, setting strict oversight of foreign bids for companies in key industries such as energy, telecoms, transport, water and the health industries. The decree requires foreign companies to get permission from the French state before taking control of firms in such sectors.
Japan strikes pact with Baltic countries
Japanese PM Shinzo Abe toured last week six Eastern European countries in order to boost economic and political ties with that part of the world, news wires reported. His visit started on 12 January with a Baltics stop and continued through Bulgaria and Serbia to finish last Tuesday in Romania.
Last-minute sales help Airbus to win 2017 race
Active selling in the closing weeks of 2017 helped Airbus overhauling Boeing's recent lead in the global jet market to win their annual order contest for the fifth year in a row, news wires reported. The European planemaker announced last Monday net orders after cancellations rose 52% to 1,109 aircraft in 2017, placing it ahead of Boeing's 912 net orders. Airbus posted 1,229 gross or unadjusted orders, compared with Boeing's 1,053.
Major flashback of Pink Floyd run in Rome
A Pink Floyd Exhibition, titled “Their Mortal Remains”, opened the doors for visitors on 19 January at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome, known as MACRO. The move to the Italian capital is the exhibition's first international event on the global landscape following the earlier highly-successful debut at London's Victoria and Albert Museum. The exhibition continues the first collaboration in decades of Pink Floyd's remaining members and is produced and promoted globally by Concert Productions International B.V. in association with MondoMostre and Live Nation. The Rome exhibit will runs to 1 July.
Funnycross with Christo Guelov
Boryana Kolchagova
Christo Guelov is living out his dreams. He has always had the feeling that the brush and the paints will be his instruments of changing the world. “I remember that when I was young, perhaps at the age of 10, I won a competition for asphalt drawings. I had drawn a monastery with a piece of chalk.
Small artistic revolution
Penka Momchilova, BTA
The production with which Bulgarian director Galin Stoev took over the position of director of Theatre National de Toulouse has been described by the French media and critics as a small artistic revolution. The Delhi Dance tour of the National Theatre cast became an undeniable triumph with the very first shows before the French audience.
Bulgaria's wonders on UNESCO list
Adelina Lozanova
Despite its small size Bulgaria is well represented in the UNESCO World Heritage List with a total of 17 items. The collection includes 10 tangible sites, of which seven cultural and three natural, as well as seven practices on the Intangible Cultural Heritage List. The first Bulgarian sites were inscribed into the list back in 1979 and the latest one - in 2017.
In Brief
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Flight service connects Sofia and Baku
 
Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov (C) and his counterpart from Azerbaijan Artur Rasizade (2L) open the first ever regular flight service between Sofia and Baku. Photo: BTA 

Merkel visits Paris, Sofia
 
German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Paris last Friday for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron before travelling to Sofia on Saturday. Photo: EPA

Green Week rules Berlin
 
A man works on preparations prior to the opening of the 83rd International Green Week fair, which took place from 19 to 28 January in Berlin. Photo: EPA

Europe on track to make future bright
 
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker appointed last week six members to the Task Force on Subsidiarity, Proportionality and Doing Less More Efficiently aimed at making the EU future brighter. The Task Force will work under the Chairmanship of First VP Frans Timmermans and will report to the President by 15 July. It will make plans for the EU to focus on delivering more and faster in selected policy areas, such as securing our external borders, while doing less elsewhere, such as in regional development.

Bulgaria, Macedonia ratify Friendship Treaty
 
The National Assembly of Bulgaria ratified unanimously the Treaty of Friendship, Good-Neighbourliness and Cooperation between Bulgaria and Macedonia on 18 January. Three days earlier, the Treaty was ratified by the Macedonian parliament as well. The document, signed by PMs Boyko Borisov and Zoran Zaev in Skopje on 1 August 2017, ends years of diplomatic wrangling and sets the basic principles of bilateral relations. Bulgaria committed to back Macedonia's bids to join the EU and NATO.

Wild winter wind storm pummels Europe
 
A powerful storm pummelled Europe with high winds and snow 18 January, killing at least a dozen people in three countries, grounding flights, halting trains, ripping roofs off buildings and flipping over trucks. Traffic on Dutch roads was plunged into chaos, with the wind blowing over tractor trailers, toppling trees and hampering efforts to clean up the mess. Amsterdam's Schiphol briefly halted flights, and airline KLM scrapped more than 200 flights. In Germany, long-distance trains were stopped.

EU-China Tourism Year 2018 launched
 
The EU-China Tourism Year was officially launched last Friday at the Doge's Palace in Venice with the participation of Internal Market Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska and EP President Antonio Tajani. The initiative aims at providing an opportunity to increase the number of visits, promote sustainable tourism and stimulate mutual investment opportunities. It will consist of a number of cooperative marketing campaigns, business summits and business-to-business meetings for tourism operators.

Extreme cold in Yakutsk
 
Gripped by extreme cold, frosty Yakutsk freezes to the core. The thermometer in Oymyakon, the world's coldest village, breaks as temperatures plunge to -62C. Photo: Instagram/@anastasiagav

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