The Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov has denied his country has “ever violated European Union regulations”.
The statement came as Denkov took questions from MEPs during the European Parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg on November 22.
While the heart of the debate revolved around Bulgaria’s ongoing exclusion from the visa-free Schengen Area travel zone, he also faced questions regarding his country’s dealings with Russian oil and gas.
“On the questions connected with … Russian oil, I would like to state very clearly and resolutely from this podium, never has Bulgaria violated EU regulations, never has it broken the laws,” Denkov maintained.
Such claims may now come under scrutiny, as both the European Commission and Denkov himself have announced investigations into these dealings.
As reported by Brussels Signal, Bulgaria’s state-owned gas giant Bulgargaz concluded a deal with Turkey’s state-owned BOTAŞ in September. That appears to be not only a significant violation of EU competition law but may also create a backdoor for Russian gas into the EU.
As Ireland’s former Minister of State for European Affairs Dick Roche pointed out in a recent comment piece on this website, while there is no way to ascertain the origin of the gas from Turkey, the country’s President Recep Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin have both been outspoken about their intentions to make Turkey a hub for Russian gas.
— Brussels Signal (@brusselssignal) November 16, 2023
The contract between Bulgargaz and BOTAŞ contains a clause that prohibits the Bulgarians from enquiring about the origin of gas that the Turkish company pumps into the EU.
Speaking during the parliamentary debate with Denkov, Gunnar Beck, a German AfD MEP, said: “The Southern Gas Corridor, we all know, is used to launder Russian gas via Turkey.”
He also pointed out that Bulgaria will be paying the Turkish gas giant €2 billion a year as part of the deal.
“Northern European citizens are paying cohesion funds to Bulgaria, which Bulgaria then appears to be handing over to Erdoğan,” he said.
“EU policy, it seems, is riddled with hypocrisy.”
On top of this, as pointed out by Beck and as previously reported by Brussels Signal, the EC has provided a low-interest loan of €400 million to Bulgargaz.
Bulgaria is ploughing ahead with a gas deal that will create a European “backdoor for Russian gas”, despite European Union objections. https://t.co/xvNf7yuX3j
— Brussels Signal (@brusselssignal) September 15, 2023
The EC also has an ongoing court case against Bulgargaz and has fined the firm €77 million in 2018 for anti-competitive practices.
The penalty was met by outrage by the then-Bulgarian government, which declared it would not recognise any such EC decision. The fine is currently still under appeal.
The rest of the debate mainly concerned the issues of Bulgaria’s entry into the Schengen Area and the question of the North Macedonia’s accession into the EU.
Bulgaria is currently finding itself blocked from entering the EU’s visa-free travel zone by Austria.
Vienna is concerned that dropping border checks between Bulgaria and Romania, and the rest of the EU, will facilitate more illegal mass migration throughout the bloc.
Bulgaria has until recently been barring North Macedonia’s entry to the EU over the status and rights of the Bulgarian minority in that country.
Last year, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Bulgaria agreed to allow the EU to proceed with North Macedonia’s accession process.
That led to Denkov coming under fire from nationalist Bulgarian MEPs who accused him of ignoring what they claimed was the persecution of Bulgarians in North Macedonia.