{"title": "Europe diary: Westminster and Bulgaria","content": "
HIGH-SPEED POLICEIn rural Bulgaria it's pretty common to see a farmer making his way to his fields in a cart pulled by a single old nag. The police in the capital, Sofia, can rely on a little more horsepower. Confiscated convertible: Is this your car?It's the only place I've ever seen the police drive a Porsche convertible. Complete with blue flashing light and repainted in white with smart blue stripes. This is not profligacy with public money but something odder. Like the BMW and Merc driven by the Bulgarian police, it's been stolen somewhere in Europe, shipped to Bulgaria by criminal gangs, and then confiscated. So far they've been luckier than one judge, who was proudly going to work in a top-of-the-range four-wheel-drive until its German owner spotted it and demanded it back. So if this is your long-lost car do contact the Bulgarian police. I'm sure they'll be delighted to hear from you. SNOUTS IN TROUGHThere are squeals and grunts from the pigs greedily pushing each other out of the way as a fresh juicy bundle of grass is thrown into their pen. But the farmer here on the Thracian Plain is fed up with politicians and bureaucrats with their snouts in the trough. It's hard to get people to tell their tales of corruption, despite the certainty of many international reports that it is rife Bulgaria is likely to get a sharp rap on the knuckles for failing to tackle corruption, and its entry into the EU, planned for 1 January 2007 may even be delayed. This farmer applied for European Union money to rebuild a cowshed that had burned down. According to the rules he should have got half his investment back. He was turned down, for no apparent reason. Now 20 or so politicians and civil servants are being investigated for allegedly embezzling the fund to the tune of around £3m (4.4m euro). But it's hard to get people to tell their tales of corruption, despite the certainty of many international reports that it is rife. The man from the Bulgarian anti-corruption website says he has no concrete examples. When we ask in exasperation how people can measure corruption, as they do, without individual stories, we are told 'social indices'. The Bulgarian press at least is full of stories. I ask one businessman if corruption makes it hard for him. 'Yes, very difficult'. How? He smiles and looks at me as though I'm an idiot, which I'm sure he thinks I am. 'Well, the bureaucracy can be very difficult.' But what does that mean in practice? 'We have long and firm experience of standing up to the bureaucracy,' he says, smiling a sad smile. DARK HEART Tobias Jones: He could have been writing about Bulgaria Corruption becomes a problem, not when the odd official can be bribed but when it becomes impossible to avoid and only holy fools refuse to play the game. On the way back from covering the Italian elections I read Tobias Jones's brilliant book, The Dark Heart of Italy. I'm struck by the similarity between deep problems he identifies in Italy with what also seems true in Bulgaria. People do not respect the state but can cringe before authority. They believe, with some evidence, that politicians are crooks and this justifies their own cheating. Heavy-handed bureaucracy is subverted by reliance on a clannish network of family and friends. But is it worse in Bulgaria than other parts of the world, even dare I say it, than the EU itself?Author: MARK MARDELL
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