Migration quota scheme was among the 'politically sensitive issues' at the last for 2017 European Council
Maria Koleva, Brussels
A number of items comprised the agenda of the last for this year European summit, held at the Council's Europa Building in Brussels on 14 and 15 December. The EU leaders discussed defence, social issues, education, culture, climate, foreign affairs, Brexit as well as such “politically sensitive issues” as EMU and migration. The 28 heads of state or government conferred on the current work to reinforce their defence ties and took stock of the accomplishment of EU-NATO cooperation. At a special ceremony, the leaders, together with representatives of different military forces of EU countries, marked the launch of the Permanent Structured Cooperation, known as PESCO.
Stakes and shares in 40 companies and a luxury property in Sozopol have been affected by the measure
Property to the tune of BGN 200m owned by Ivo Prokopiev has been put under distraint. The sum includes stakes and shares in 40 companies, directly and indirectly controlled by him, personal bank accounts and 32% of a luxury house with a yard in Sozopol. The news was announced by Plamen Georgiev, head of the Commission for Illegal Assets Forfeiture (CIAF), on 12 December.
 
The slander machine has gone into overdrive because of the CorpBank case
Not a day goes by without the Bulgarian oligarchy publishing at least one fake news item servicing the behind-the-scenes clique’s talking points against our publisher, MRF lawmaker Delyan Peevski. The MP has essentially become enemy №1 of the crime bosses, who are using their puppet media outlets to put every possible sin on his shoulders and vilify him as the person solely responsible for every problem in the country.
 
EU, Japan seal free trade deal
The European Union and Japan last Friday reached an agreement on a free trade pact, thus opening up markets for each others' production, news wires reported. The news was first reported by Japanese PM Minister Shinzo Abe, quoted by Japan's Kyodo news agency. Later on it was confirmed by Brussels. According to analysts, it is the biggest such agreement the EU has ever negotiated and finalised, as it is creating an economic zone with 600m people and approximately 30% of the world GDP. “We welcome the finalisation of the negotiations of the Economic Partnership Agreement between the EU and Japan,” Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe said last Friday in a joint statement.
Juncker Plan fund to trigger €500bn
Maria Koleva, Brussels
The European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), the main prop of the Juncker Plan to be improved, beefed up and to be prolonged until the end of 2020, was approved by MEPs on 12 December and thus endorsed the agreement that the EP and national governments reached three months ago.
MEPs call on closing legal loopholes for tax avoidance
Maria Koleva, Brussels
The final document with findings and a list of 210 recommendations, made by the EP’s Special Inquiry Committee into Money Laundering, Tax Avoidance and Evasion, known as PANA, was backed with wide majority by MEPs on 13 December at the plenary sitting in Strasbourg.
Twenty-five EU states sign PESCO
European Union Member States on 11 December moved ever closer towards establishing a defence union, after the European Council adopted the creation of a new European defence and security cooperation network known as PESCO. The new defence union is expected to address immediate threats without having to rely on NATO for all of the EU's defence needs.
Farmers receive more tools for coping with market volatility
Maria Koleva, Brussels
Measures that make stronger farmers’ position in the food supply chain towards additional crisis-prevention and management instruments, stabilising farmers’ incomes and simplifying the EU farm policy were backed on 12 December by MEPs during their last for this year plenary session in Strasbourg.
World is losing battle against climate change
We're not moving quickly enough. We all need to act. We are losing the battle. With these words French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed last Tuesday dozens of world leaders and company executives at the One Planet Summit in Paris. Organised two years after the Paris Climate Conference, it was aimed at breathing new life into the battle against climate change after this summer US President Donald Trump announced he was pulling the US out of the international accord.
Borisov: Brexit is a bad thing
Despite the processes that are taking place between the European Union and the UK, Bulgaria expects that the UK will remain a strategic partner of the bloc on key issues such as security and combating terrorism. This is the stance that Prime Minister Boyko Borisov expressed to his British counterpart Theresa May, at whose invitation Borisov was on an official visit to London on 11 December, the press office of the Council of Ministers announced. The two senior government officials discussed cooperation in the fields of migration and security. The intelligence agencies of Bulgaria and the UK are working together very well, the leaders noted. Borisov said that he expects London to support the European integration of the countries in the Western Balkans. He believes that their joining of the family of democratic values is the biggest guarantee for successful, sustainable and peaceful development of the European continent.
Leadership farce must end at last
Giles Merritt
Ever since the end of Jacques Delors' reign, Europeans have bemoaned the EU's lack of leadership. We will soon be heading into the murky period from which the next batch of leaders will emerge, so there's still time to make the whole process transparent and respectable. All it takes is political courage. The first of the EU's leadership dominoes has just fallen, with Portuguese finance minister Mario Centeno's successful bid as the incoming Eurogroup president. There now follows a baffling and obscure game of three-dimensional chess in which nationality, gender and political affiliation score higher than talent or charisma.
EU into corner on Jerusalem
Hugh Lovatt
Over the past week Europe has once again been forced into reaction mode by President Trump, this time in response to his surprise decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital. To make matters more difficult, the announcement was swiftly followed by Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu's quasi self-invited trip to Brussels to meet with EU foreign ministers and High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini.
Putin: Mission in Syria achieved
Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to Syria last Monday where he met with Presidents Bashar al-Assad and disclosed plans to send “a significant part” of Moscow's military contingent home. However, the Pentagon expressed scepticism, noting that Russian comments about removing forces do not often correspond with actual troop reductions.
Islamic world condemns, no more
The tension in the Middle East remained at high level last week, while the Islamic world sought to coordinate its response to the recognition by US President Donald Trump of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
EastMed deal to ease EU gas dependency
The EU will manage in the near future to further ease its dependency on Russian gas after Cyprus, Greece, Italy, and Israel signed on 8 December an agreement to build a pipeline bringing gas from the Levantine Basin to Europe, news wires reported. Once built, the EastMed pipeline is to ship up to 16 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas a year from the Leviathan gas field, situated between Israel and Cyprus, to Greece and Italy. The signatories hope the pipeline will become operational by 2025.
US, EU and Japan up pressure on China
In a joint statement that did not single out China or any other country, the three economic powers said they would work within the World Trade Organization and other multilateral groups to eliminate unfair competitive conditions caused by subsidies, state-owned enterprises, “forced” technology transfer and local content requirements.
French shopping centre giant swallows Westfield
Shopping centre giant Westfield is to be acquired by French property group Unibail-Rodamco in a deal worth up to $25bn, news wires reported.
Young@Opera conquers the Balkans
Penka Momchilova, BTA
Over 30 opera shows in 12 cities in Bulgaria, Montenegro and Serbia are featured in the Young@Opera project, which is to present over 50 young and talented singers. The two-year project realised by the Operosa Foundation will be launched in December 2017, the organisers announced.
I love the symbiosis between art forms
Irina Gigova
I have been lucky enough to fulfil my dreams and I continue to work on developing my talents. I have been singing from a very young age and I owe my voice to my genes and God. I even recorded a song a while back.
Shifting Layers
Penka Momchilova, BTA
An exhibition at the Sofia City Art Gallery entitled Shifting Layers. Young Art at the Museum presents 35 Bulgarian artists, who reside in different parts of the world, travel and constantly expand their horizon. The show was opened on 13 December.
In Brief
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Borisov meets with Ratas
 
PM Boyko Borisov and the premier of Estonia Juri Ratas discussed the implementation of the common programme of Estonia, Bulgaria and Austria for their Trio Presidency of the Council of the EU. Photo: Council of Ministers

EU gets Princess of Asturias Award
 
Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy (L) presents EP President Antonio Tajani (2L) and EC President Jean-Claude Juncker (2R) with the Princess of Asturias Award for Concord act in Brussels, 14 December. Photo: EPA

Stoltenberg confirmed for two more years as NATO chief
 
NATO members extended Jens Stoltenberg's term as Secretary General until 30 September 2020, giving the former Norwegian premier a rare six-year mandate. Photo: EPA

Joint Declaration on the legislative priorities signed
 
The Presidents of the three top EU Institutions signed last Thur­s­day the new Joint Declaration on the Union's legislative priorities for 2018-2019. The document sets out 31 new legislative proposals tabled by the Commission which will be given priority treatment by the Parliament and Council for adoption or substantial progress by the time of the EP elections in 2019. The first Joint Declaration was signed in December 2016.

ECB hikes growth forecasts, but keeps rates at record low
 
The ECB made no changes to its monetary policy on 14 December, keeping rates at record lows. Mario Draghi was upbeat on the Eurozone growth outlook but warned an “ample degree” of stimulus is still needed to get inflation back on track. The bank decided in October to reduce the purchases to €30bn a month from €60bn and to extend them at least until September. The ECB sees the economy in the 19 Eurozone countries expand 2.4% from 2.2% forecast in September.

European forests to help battle climate change
 
The Parliament and Council reached last Thursday a provisional agreement on plans to boost greenhouse gas absorption from forests as a way to tackle climate change. The agreement was on a key legislative proposal for implementing the EU's 2030 climate objectives. “This is yet another example of Europe's determination to turn the Paris Agreement into reality,” Climate Action Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said.

EU extends sanctions on Russia until July 2018
 
The EU agreed last Thursday to extend until July 2018 its economic sanctions against Russia, introduced after the country's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. The sanctions, which target Russia's financial, energy and defence industries and limit access to EU markets, would have expired at the end of January 2018. “The EU united on roll-over of economic sanctions on Russia,” Council President Donald Tusk tweeted.

Up to 20 European universities will be established by 2024
 
At least 20 'European Universities' should be established by 2024 in order to strengthen strategic partnerships across the EU and help students' mobility, EU leaders pledged last Thursday. They should consist of bottom-up networks of universities across the EU, enabling students to obtain a degree by combining studies in several Member States, and strengthening international competitiveness of the EU higher education.

Christmas is coming!
 
People watch the lightening of the Christmas tree at the central Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece, 12 December 2017. Photo: EPA

Wonder-working icon
 
Wonder-working icon The Nativity of Christ, 18th c., a copy by P. Pandilova.

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