Bulgaria and Romania elected members of the European Parliament for the fourth time, Croatia — for the third time.
In the Balkan EU member-countries the first elections to the European Parliament (EP) were off-year as Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU on January 1, 2007, when the EP elected in the spring of 2004 had already finished almost half of its term, and Croatia — on July 1, 2013, when less than 12 months were left before the end of the EP’s term formed in 2009. It’s interesting that the first EU elections in Croatia were held “in advance”, in mid-April 2013, two and a half months before the formal accession of this country to the EU. Both at the previous EP elections and during the vote on 26 May, 2019, the situation in Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia differed considerably.
The campaign in Romania turned out to be the hottest one because the country held the referendum for justice organized by President Klaus on the same day as European elections. The head of state, who has been openly fighting the ruling Social Democratic Party since he was elected, celebrated a double victory. First, the citizens supported the ban on pardoning and amnesty for people convicted for corruption, and the ban on adoption of emergency ordinance by the government to introduce changes in the justice system.
And secondly, the social-democrats, despite the support of Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă, ranked only the second in the EP elections, getting 22.56% of the votes and 8 seats. The first was the National Liberal Party which is a member of the European People’s Party (EPP) – 26.99% and 14 seats; the President’s sympathies lay with this party. The liberal Alliance 2020 USR-PLUS backed by George Soros is breathing down the social-democrats’ neck, gaining 22.28% of the votes and also receiving 8 seats in the EP (leader — ex-Prime Minister Dacian Cioloș). The PRO România Party of ex-Prime Minister Victor Ponta (6.45% of votes), The People’s Movement Party of ex-President Traian Băsescu (5.75%), as well as Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (5.27%), won two seats each.
Right after the closing of the polling stations, Mr Iohannis said that “the SDP government should resign.” The possibility of holding early elections in Romania is also increasing due to the fact that on May 27 the Constitutional court — the highest legal authority in the country — confirmed the verdict (three-and-a-half year prison sentence) to Liviu Dragne, ex-speaker of the lower house of Parliament and former leader of the Romanian social-democrats. He is called the architect of the current judicial reform in Romania, under which, according to the President and the opposition, the courts have lost part of their independence.
The neighboring Bulgaria held calmer and more predictable EP elections, though not without scandals: the Central Electoral Commission demanded to remove a video of the “Vazrazhdane” (Revival) party, which used an extract from the series “Servant of the people” in its advertisement, where “President Goloborodko” played by Vladimir Zelensky shoots down MPs. The video which caused a stir was made public on the eve of the EP elections. It is interesting to note that the ad has not been deleted from the official page of the Revival party yet, although the Bulgarian CEC considered it an incitement to commit a crime and a disruption of public order by distributing materials on the social network. If the political force fails to challenge this decision in court, and the video won’t be removed, the head of the party Kostadin Kostadinov could face a prison term of up to six years and a fine.
However, such an attempt to attract voters’ attention didn’t help the Revival party and it did not cross the electoral threshold. Meanwhile, the coalition of the ruling party “Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria” (GERB) led by Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and the right-wing party “Union of Democratic Forces” (both are part of the EPP), which received 30.94% of the votes and 6 mandates in the European Parliament, won the elections. Its major rival, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, was supported by 24.24% of voters, which will give the socialists 5 seats. The liberal Movement for Rights and Freedoms was the third with 12.78% and 3 mandates. The conservative party IMRO – Bulgarian National Movement — 7.2% (2 mandates), and the “Democratic Bulgaria” Coalition, a member of the EPP — 6.42% (1 mandate) also sent their representatives to the EP. Bulgarian eurosceptics of the Volya party, backers of the Le Pen and Salvini alliance, won’t enter the European Parliament.
In Croatia, the election of an independent candidate Mislav Kolakušić to the EP, a former judge of the Commercial Court of the country and a potential presidential candidate, came as a real surprise. This famous lawyer with his own candidate list (the EP elections are held on a proportional basis) secured even more votes than the two parties narrowly crossing the electoral threshold — 7.89%. The populist party “Živi zid” (“Human Shield”), an ally of the Italian Five Star Movement, has 5.66% of votes (one mandate), the liberals from the Amsterdam coalition gained 5.19% of the vote (also one seat in the EP). Another EP mandate went to the conservative coalition “Croatian Sovereignists” (8.52%), and the largest number of seats was won by the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (22.72%, 4 mandates) and the opposition Social Democratic Party (18.71%, 3 mandates).
Two parties representing the country’s Serbian national minority – the Democratic Alliance of Serbs (DAS) and the Independent Democratic Serbian Party (SDSS) supported by the Serbian Orthodox Church took part in the European election in Croatia. They counted on the votes of more than 120 thousand Croatian citizens of Serbian nationality, half of which would be enough for the first Serb to appear in the European Parliament. The NSDP was closer to passing the electoral threshold, gaining 2.66% of the votes, i.e. slightly more than half of the required number. On the other hand, given the anti-Serb sentiments in Croatia (even in Zagreb the posters of the SDSS leader Milorad Pupovac were covered with calls to “kill the Serb”), this is clearly a tangible result, which gives hope for the success of this party in the national elections.
Speaking of the European elections in the Balkan countries of the EU in general, they were not very surprising. Most of the MEPs from Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia will be representatives of the European “nomenclature” who will join the factions of the European People’s Party and the Party of European socialists. So, there will be no significant changes neither in the foreign policy of these countries (in particular, the non-recognition of the Russian status of Crimea and the continuation of sanctions against Russia) nor in their domestic policy, especially since the ruling parties won in Bulgaria and Croatia. Even if early elections are declared in Romania and a coalition of national liberals and Soros’ nominees comes to power instead of the social-democrats, it is unlikely to alter the rhetoric and actions of the new government.
On the other hand, despite formal support for Brussels’ anti-Russian policy, Sofia and Zagreb continue to implement joint projects with Russia in the energy sector. First of all, we are referring to the ongoing TurkStream project, which guarantees Bulgaria and Croatia the supply of Russian gas regardless of the situation in Ukraine. It will also become a source of additional income from transit for Bulgaria. Therefore, the votes of MEPs from these countries might as well help receive those “firm legal guarantees” from Brussels to extend the TurkStream to the EU territory, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke about at the meeting with members of the Association of European Business on October 31 last year.