On the 15th of May 2020 the EU Commission allowed Europeans Citizens Initiative (a group of UBI advocates) to start collecting signatures from EU residents. If the European UBI family succeeds in gathering 1 000 000 signatures divided among a minimum of 7 countries, ECI delegates will be able to present a proposal to the European Commission which if approved will hopefully work on convincing EU governments to start making reforms allowing unconditional payments of universal basic income to all of their citizens. That of course will become reality if the governments of each country agree to manifest the proposed UBI policies.
Historically, the right of ordinary people to bypass their governments in drafting meaningful laws that improve citizens’ well being through direct or participatory democracy has been almost impossible to realise.
“According to recent studies on the effectivness of the ECI system, there seem to be deficiencies (lack of financial support, absence of “binding the EU Commission to offer a clear legislative proposal to successful ECIs” (Sandrine Belier, Green European Journal, Sept.2014) which somehow indicate that the EU Commission is not yet fully conscious about the importance of participative democracy and of the ECI as a potential link between EU institutions and European citizens.”
This means the road to social evolution and genuine democracy is long, hard and constantly obstructed. Deriving from the past accounts of grassroots movements and the amount of resistance they have experienced from state institutions, corporations and the majority of the media one needs to be prepared for a serious challenge and not underestimate the obstacles ahead.
As one can imagine a lot is at stake and that should serve as a motivation for everybody who wants to see positive change in the world. The good news is that the Universal Basic Income movement is growing and people are realising the potential of freeing themselves from state and market dependencies and control.
If successful the UBI project has the potential to solve a wide range of urgent issues like:
With a long and eventful history of 1300 years existence on the European continent the Bulgarian people (and possibly the Greek), have a very advanced understanding of what poverty, inequality, oppression and corruption looks and feels like.
The short summary of Bulgarians’ collective sources of painful experience comes down to:
– 482 years of Ottoman Empire rule also known as “ Turkish Slavery” – the period is marked by inhumane and violent treatment of vast parts of the Bulgarian population, heavy taxation, corrupt practices and abuse of power by local governors.
“ Time of violence ” – Time Of Violence a Story Of Balkan Christians Under Ottoman Muslim Rule (film) – NB! – extremely violent.
– 45 years of state capitalism and Soviet Union dominance – defined by authoritarian rule, state oppression (labour camps and mass killings of political opponents), exploitation of peasant and working class people, rise in education, agricultural productivity, scientific and technological progress
– 30 years of capitalism and European Union, NATO & US dominance with resource dependencies on Russia – resulted in state capture , environmental devastation, increased poverty and inequality, drop in quality of education, social services and health care, massive immigration ( brain drain ) and an apocalyptic demographic crisis. It created a new class called “the working poor” where one works full time but still is not able to meet his/her basic needs.
How the Bulgarian nation manages to keep its head above water considering the historical context, its dysfunctional state and negligent allies is still a mystery. What is certain are the numbers showing a tragic demographic crisis engulfing the country. At present Bulgaria is the fastest shrinking country in the world.
“In 1988, Bulgaria’s population peaked at 8.9 million. Now it stands at 6.9 million. That means that, in little over three decades, the country’s population has fallen by an extraordinary 22.5%. That’s an even more dramatic drop than that seen in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which endured four years of war.”
Angel Petrov writes :
“The population decline carries long-term economic costs. Over time, a shrinking workforce becomes unattractive to investors and unable to subsidise the pension and healthcare needs of an ageing population.”
“The exodus of Bulgaria’s workers began in the 1990s, in the turmoil after communism, and continued well into the new century. The country’s entry into the EU in 2007 was preceded by concerns that migration would peak after freedom of movement was extended to all its citizens.”
Some of the migrants have left behind “Skype children”, so named after the best known of the apps that keep them in touch. The children are typically entrusted to the care of grandparents supported by remittances. In Bulgaria’s north-west, 44 per cent – or almost half – of the children aged 10-17 had one or both parents working abroad, according to a report by the UN children’s agency, Unicef. In Bulgaria as a whole, the average figure was 23 per cent, or one in five children.”
“ Ten years after joining the EU , both Bulgaria and Romania are suffering from an exodus of skilled workers. But the brain drain has been a brain gain for Germany.”
There are now over 2,5 million Bulgarians living abroad .
‘I love my country but I hate the Bulgarian state.’ – can often be heard from Bulgarians residing in and out of the country. The connection with the land, people, culture, food and beautiful nature is hard to erase from the Balkan psyche especially when slaving away as a secondary citizen in the USA and EU countries. There are exceptions and many have taken on university degrees and prestigious jobs abroad. The general feeling among migrants is that one day they will be able to go back home to their families. Currently that dream is slipping away.
1. Inability to change the system that perpetuates socio-economic degradation caused
by rampant corruption and lack of participatory democracy.
Peaceful people’s protests have been occurring roughly every 7 years for the last 30 years – 1990,1996/7, 2013/14, 2020. Unfortunately this pattern of civil disobedience has not achieved any of the following necessary changes:
In 2016 over 2,5 million Bulgarians out of 6,5 million voted in the first genuinely citizen-driven referendum to replace the current electoral system with a majoritarian elections, the results of the referendum were disregarded . To date law for holding referendums has not been adjusted in a way that can serve the people.
“By 2014, the Bulgarian government was accused of mismanaging the economy so badly that the European Union froze billions of euros in aid. Between 2008 and 2018, foreign direct investment collapsed, dropping from 28% to 2% of GDP, or $9 billion to just $1.13 billion. The cabinets of Boyko Borisov have been in power through most of the decade, establishing a system of impunity for high-profile crime and favouritism of certain local companies. Approximately 22% of GDP are lost to corruption each year, and a number of major foreign companies, like ČEZ Group, have withdrawn from Bulgaria” For a detailed examples of corrupt practices visit: Bivol
● hindered access to information by citizens – some ministries have almost classified all information concerning programs and budget resources, the meetings of members of parliament are not public
● freedom of speech – Bulgaria ranked 35 in 2007 and after 13 years in the EU has dropped to 111th place
– Why Bulgaria is the EU’s lowest ranked country on press freedom index
● reduction of the number of administration officials
– Bulgaria has around 769 100 people working in the administration of the state. That makes almost one third of the total workforce of the country.
● protection of the environment
I would like to add that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Illegal construction, violation of Natura 2000 , poisoning rivers and unnecessary dam projects funded by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development , the list can go on.
With every popular uprising leading to even worse results people are overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness and apathy. The young population naturally seeks a way out of this vicious circle reality. Often feels like this desperate state of affairs is encouraged and funded by the EU. One starts to ask if what is happening to Bulgaria comes closer and closer to a definition of political and economic African style colonialism?
“On 29 August 2019, the president-elect of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, paid a visit to Bulgaria to discuss the country’s expectations vis-a-vis the new commission and to seek prime minister Boyko Borissov’s support. Her trip will be remembered with her unjust praise for Borissov’s government and the fact that for the first time in Bulgaria journalists were not allowed to ask any questions at a press conference with an EU leader. It has been reported that journalists’ microphones were taken away with von der Leyen’s approval.”
“Here is what is happening.
The ruling party, GERB, is part of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament. The EPP has been vocal in its backing of the Bulgarian government in response to the demonstrations. “The EPP Group fully supports the Bulgarian government of Boyko Borisov and its efforts to protect the economy against the negative effects of the Corona crisis, fight against corruption and the progress that is being made to join the Eurozone”, said group leader Manfred Weber on 10 July 2020.”
This could cause disenchantment not only among Bulgarians but among the citizens of other member states. When European leaders do not properly address people’s demands for justice, rule of law, and democracy in any EU member state, it negatively affects the EU as a whole.”
2. Inability to cope (physically and mentally) in an atmosphere of constant poverty, inequality, insecurity and degrading social and economic conditions.
Bulgarian people currently receive the lowest income in the European Union while the cost of living is increasing. This is paradoxically occurring during 25 years of steady rise in productivity and mostly rising GDP .
“In 2016, the government increased the minimum wage to 215 euros per month. At the end of 2016 the average monthly salary was about 480 euros a month, but there are differences in the regions of the country. The average monthly gross salary has reached the value of 1,036 leva (530 euro) in March, 2017. According to the latest Annual report of the Institute of Economic Studies at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, the average salary in Bulgaria is only a quarter (1/4) of the average salary in the EU, and should be two times higher when the labour productivity is calculated in the formula.”
Bulgarian MPs current salary (2020) + bonuses can reach up to 4 860 EUR (9 400 lv)
Family of four estimated monthly costs: €1,826 (3,574 lv) Single person estimated monthly costs: €760 (1,487 lv)
The at-risk-of-poverty (AROP) rate among persons aged 65+ was 24.3 percent in 2016 with a very large difference between women (30.1%) and men (15.9%). In 2017 the minimum pension was 100 EUR
There are almost 2 000 000 000 pensioners in Bulgaria
● Population below the poverty line
22.0% in poverty (2017)
32.5% at risk of poverty or social exclusion (2019)
In only 3 years Bulgarian students managed to drop from 45th to 50th place in the Worldwide Ranking – average score of mathematics, science and reading. (PISA)
Gini coefficient (2019) – 40.8 and rising
● Labour force – 3,283,797 (2019) in decline
● Budget surplus – BGN 2.5 billion (2019) +2.1% of GDP (2019
“In a captured by corruption state “the budget surplus means that the government will continue to take away more money from the citizens than it needs to cover its expenses. Thus, it deprives people of the free choice to use and direct by themselves the resources they have produced. The tax burden hinders the efficiency of the economy, the incentives for work and entrepreneurship and the stimuli for tax avoidance and the operation in the gray economy flourish.”
● Exploitation of Natural Resources
“The mining industry is worth $760 mln , and, along with related industries, employs 120,000 people. The rising global prices of gold, lead and copper in 2010, as well as investments in zinc and coal production, have boosted economic growth in the mining sector after the financial crisis of 2007–2008. As of 2010 Bulgaria ranks as the 19th largest coal producer in the world, 9th largest bismuth producer, 19th largest copper producer, and the 26th largest zinc producer. In Europe, the country ranks fourth in gold production and sixth in coal production.”
The level of unjust and unnecessary suffering that the numbers above represent is hard to accept. It makes the outbreak of massive protests (2020) all over the country triggered by COVID an event that is not surprising to anybody. The measures taken from the government are just another nail in the coffin of the Bulgarian people.
All government “aid” described below is highly bureaucratised and full of conditions, in addition the funds are often paid late due to the complicated and sluggish administrative processes citizens are subjected to.
● cash payments of 192EUR
– only for families with 14 years old children for the duration of the state of emergency (2 or 3 months)
● “over 2 months the unemployment fund will pay 60% of the income of the employees from sectors most heavily influenced by the COVID-19 crisis for up to three months. In addition to employers in sectors, where operations have been suspended as a result of the social distancing measures (tourism, sports, culture, etc.), any other employer that can prove a 20% y/y drop in revenue in March is also eligible for the 60% salary subsidy.” The measure was extended until 30th of September 2020.
– This is the main stimulus however the working population has doubts that the administrative process will be efficient enough (it is expected that most companies will receive the aid in October and November 2020). Furthermore many small and medium businesses don’t have the means to pay 40% of the salaries. Some critics see this policy as supporting big companies which will absorb the unemployment caused by the lack of help for small and medium companies.
● to date (1st August 2020) 129 million leva (64,5 million EUR) have been distributed to 8400 employers
– that is 13% of the 1 billion leva (511 million EUR) allocated by the government. Close to 35% from these people have taken aid only for one month.
● on the 10th of April the Bulgarian Central Bank enacted a moratorium on credit payments.
– Overall the number of people who have taken credits in Bulgaria is almost 3 million , by the 10th of May 102 000 have applied for temporary cancellation on payments (usually 6 months) towards their loans and 80 300 have been approved. Changes in these numbers are expected.
In conclusion the measures so far have the potential to create another wave of workforce immigration towards West countries, weakening further the economic future of Bulgaria because:
– The processes are not transparent, efficient and timely
– The measures are conditional and selective and not universal
– Most of the governments support is expressed in loans rather than direct payments
● EU recovery funds
-“ The European Commission foresees a share of the stimulus to the tune of €15 billion, against a €3.3 billion contribution. Thus, the net amount that Bulgaria would receive, beyond what is provided in MFF , is €11.7 billion – over 19% of the country’s annual GDP. Allocated for 4 years, this means about 5% of GDP per year, and is set to be supplemented by more than 3% of GDP Bulgaria expects to receive from the EU budget.”
There are few options in terms of how the EU stimulus fund will be distributed.
1. Allocated, as usual in a non-transparent, unjust way to a small group of administrative and oligarch parasitic class connected to the power centre. Something that has been happening since accession to the EU. The money is sometimes exported to politicians’ offshore accounts.
2. The fund could be withdrawn by the EU after inspections prove corrupt practices.
3. Used in a way that genuinely helps the people of Bulgaria.
In this context showering Bulgaria with money has zero effect on its recovery from a 30 years of permanent state of crisis on top of the pandemic. All that option one does is to empower criminals . The people end up losing again and the EU looks like an almost criminal organisation with no concern for the well being of European citizens in Bulgaria or responsibility to the rest of the taxpayers. Without fundamental system change the third option is impossible. In moments like these one starts to question, why UBI is not on the agenda of the EU Commission since it is the most secure way to support countries like Bulgaria without wasting European tax payers money?
For the realists, EU policies towards Bulgaria since 2008 can be described as follows:
“a clueless, inefficient bureaucracy… working tirelessly for politicians with an infinite capacity to recite unenforceable rules” . This state of affairs reinforces the following mantra ‘ the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must ’.
Surprisingly, the popular opinion in Bulgaria that the EU will somehow magically fix corruption, still prevails. However, what happened to Greece should be a warning sign to the citizens of vulnerable states weakened by state capture and non-democratic practices, with highly compromised officials who abuse their power disadvantaging entire generations.
If real change occurs it will come from the people not from another centralised hierarchical institution that is not held responsible for its actions, looks after its own interests and funds mafia-like governments. The expectation that two similar models (EU Commission and any State Government) can miraculously hold each other accountable is fading away. One is simply mirrored on the other and that sameness does not allow effective reform in favour of EU citizens.
“ The EU’s inaction and European leaders ’ deliberate and continuous silence on the situation in Bulgaria could lead to increased alienation and Euroscepticism among the union’s young citizens in Bulgaria (but not only), where trust in Brussels institutions is typically greater than in the national government and one of the highest in the EU. But this is not a given. Civil society’s reawakening is recent and incomplete. If European leaders do not express clear support for the rule of law, democracy, and reforms to the judicial system in Bulgaria now, there might be no chance later to keep Bulgaria a pro-European member state.”
Grass roots, bottom – top politics must prevail in the EU and Bulgaria if this exhausted nation along with a suspicious Union has a chance to somehow make it and thrive in the next 50 years.
Given the arrogance and inadequacy of the current government Bulgarians will be in a state of civil disobedience for a long time, the survival instinct of the people requires it. In 2013 it took the people over 400 days of peaceful protest to bring down another corrupt cabinet.
“By their very positions at the top of the power pyramid, corrupt elites and oligarchs are hard to remove. But we have seen that it can be done if people stand together to demand higher standards from their leaders and the judiciary acts independently to hold them to account,” Ugaz
The unnecessary agony of the Bulgarian nature and people can be prevented and UBI is a key step that can be collectively taken to compensate over three generations who have given their talents, energy and time towards creating shared wealth spreading beyond the country borders. It’s time for common dividends to be distributed to its rightful owners.
Bulgarian UBI advocates are working hard to unite the people around the idea that once social and economic stability is achieved through unconditional payments of around 1000lv (500 EUR) Bulgarians will have the time and capacity to build a new system that meets their needs and corresponds to a consensus based democratic values. The dominant proposal on how to apply universal basic income in Bulgaria at the moment due to inflexibility of the national currency (it is tied to the euro) is by restructuring the tax system and national budget in a way that will allow for funds to feed the UBI bill with collection of Value Added Taxes + Excise Taxes paid by the sellers. The idea is every Bulgarian citizen with an active address registration to own a bank card issued by the Bulgarian Central Bank which will serve people as a payment method to be used for meeting basic needs like – rent, utility bills, food, clothes etc.
“ Any society can afford expenditure for whatever it can produce, not limited by an artificial financial budget constraint. Humanity should not be constrained by its own artefact of money. Real resources of labour, raw materials, technology and time are what enable and constrain our expenditure and consumption, not money, which as Kelton points out, we can easily create.”
Of course under the condition: “ The lower-class people who stand to benefit from a universal basic income should be the primary , if not sole, architects of the program. If charged with a task that rightfully belongs to the government, plutocrats will find a way to reroute power and money into their own hands, an outcome that cannot be abided considering the monumental constructive transformations that a UBI stands for. Billionaires and politicians already possess everything that a UBI would provide for their customers and constituents: exemplary healthcare, comfortable housing, an income many times greater than the cost of living. Since they’re primarily responsible for driving up those costs, they shouldn’t obstruct this rare opportunity for the rest of society to receive the basest compensation. This is why the debate over universal basic income must be wrested away from the automators, the innovators, the bomb builders, and the billionaires.”
The more one studies poverty the more he/she sees what it is: a human invention that exercises control over the majority of the population. Control that stops evolution. Control for the sake of control. The biggest self-imposed social psychopathy in human history.
The UBI emergency pilot hosted in Bulgaria is not an utopia and the EU can rescue its reputation by supporting it. It is an opportunity to trial universal basic income on a national level using the Bulgarian state financial infrastructure to distribute funds to the people instead of making contributions to the 1% oligarchy that is destroying the future and present of Bulgaria.
The EU Commission also has vested interest in embracing the project as the positive results will increase cohesion, trust and give hope to other states that the European experiment is not another way to practice concentration of power that allows “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must’. If there are any real European values of mutual aid, solidarity and efficiency in spending resources they ought to be realised in real life not just written on paper. The discrepancies of EU theory and practice are too big to cover up and the awareness of European citizens is growing.
It’s time for evolution not only for Bulgaria but also for the EU. UBI is a win-win solution and will literally bring Bulgaria back to life. People outside long to return to their roots and work for the well being of their parents and next generations. The EU owes this to the people of Bulgaria and Bulgarians owe it to themselves, their ancestors, the children and the European nature that happens to be surrounded by Bulgarian borders. We have too much to gain and nothing to lose.
For more detailed investigative journalism on the infinite topic of corruption scandals in Bulgaria one can visit: Bivol. An independent media often persecuted and oppressed by the Bulgarian “democratically elected” government.
A shorter version of this article appeared on the 3rd August 2020 on the website of BIEN (the Basic Income Earth Network).
From the author: Special thanks to everybody who made this article possible by providing rich evidence to the statements, opinions, and ideas expressed. Without your work and bravery, this content would not have been possible. I learned so much in the process. I will always value your efforts.