EUROPE'S LAGGARD

by Anthony Georgieff

Bulgaria falls behind even wannabe EU members

Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who has ruled Bulgaria almost uninterruptedly since 2009, may appear sprightly when he holds the hands of Angela Merkel or endearing when he tries to speak French with Emanuel Macron, but under his GERB-manship Bulgaria has collapsed to the rock bottom of almost every possible area that can be measured statistically. While continuing to be the poorest EU member state, Bulgaria now has the lowest life expectancy, continues to be the most corrupt, its education system is in shambles, its health services are crumbling, its police do not catch criminals and its media are the least free. For about 10 years Boyko Borisov and his lieutenants have managed to bring Bulgaria to pre-democracy levels – at least this is what the 2017 Catchup Index, a report prepared and promulgated by the Open Society Institute in Sofia appears to suggest.

The Catchup Index evaluates the progress status of all EU members and candidates in four main areas: the economy, democracy, quality of life and state governance.

Out of the 28 member states, Bulgaria is now Number 29 – behind even Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Predictably, the counties in northwestern Europe, including Denmark, Sweden, Luxembourg and The Netherlands, are the frontrunners. The opposite side of the continent trails far behind: Serbia, Albania, Macedonia.

None of the former Soviet bloc countries in Eastern and Central Europe quite levels up to any of the old EU members, but Bulgaria trails far behind even formerly Communist Slovenia and Czechia.

The slightly better news, according to the Catchup Index, is that Bulgaria, whilst being behind Romania, is ahead of Croatia and Greece in the economy section. Its main virtue is its low debt as seen against the size of its economy.

Other areas where Bulgaria is far behind is energy efficiency, the quality of life, democracy (where it is outside the EU criteria altogether), and media freedoms.

Recently, the ruling GERB billed "fake news" the findings of another survey, conducted by Reporters Without Borders, which indicated freedom of the press in Bulgaria was endangered. In his inimitable style Boyko Borisov said media freedoms were being ignored by the media themselves.

It would be logical to assume, therefore, that the problems Bulgaria experiences in its state governance, democracy, quality of life and so on are... problems of the Bulgarians themselves – or of the people who get voted in power.

The full 2017 Catchup Index can be viewed on www.thecatchupindex.eu

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