Metsola takes flak from Bulgarian critics in Twitter storm over rule of law

The Nationalist MEP is being taken to task by Bulgarian anti-government protestors after tabling amendments that attempted to water down a strong rule of law resolution on Boyko Borissov

Nationalist MEP Robert Metsola and David Casa (left); EPP leader Manfred Weber with Boyko Borissov
Nationalist MEP Robert Metsola and David Casa (left); EPP leader Manfred Weber with Boyko Borissov

Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola has been engulfed in a Twitter storm after moving controversial amendments for the centre-right European People’s Party, to a rule of law resolution taking Bulgaria to task on its backsliding on democratic values.

Metsola was the target of criticism over EPP amendments which attempted to water down a strongly-worded resolution on the state of rule of law in Bulgaria and accusations of corruption against its prime minister.

The MEP was also targeted with threatening messages of sexual assault and misogynism, which she has highlighted in her own Twitter feed.

But the amendments, tabled by Metsola on behalf of the EPP, called for the removal of references to Venice Commission findings on Bulgaria, and the removal of a reference to the misuse of EU funds and high-level corruption allegations that directly involve the Prime Minister; other amendments, later withdrawn by the MEP, sought to add a claim that a magnate charged with bribery was funnelling cash to the protest movement.

Bulgarian critics were especially angered at the EPP’s support to Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov in the debate held on Monday on “The Rule of law and Fundamental Rights in Bulgaria”. The resolution was adopted with 358 votes in favour, 277 against and 56 abstentions, in which they condemned police violence and “disproportionate intervention”, in particular any use of force against women and children and journalists, as well as the “unlawful and excessive audits” into private businesses that support the protests.

For the past three months, thousands of Bulgarians have taken to the streets calling on Borissov and prosecutor general Ivan Geshev to resign over rampant high-level corruption which they say has weakened state institutions and benefited powerful tycoons. Politico reported that opposition politicians and protesters accuse him of allowing an oligarchic mafia to exert influence through key institutions such as the judiciary, media and security services.

But centre-right EPP group leader Manfred Weber tweeted before the debate saying he would continue to support Borissov’s GERB party, and that any change in Bulgaria should come from elections in spring 2021 rather than the protest movement.

“This isn’t the first time Roberta Metsola has been in the firing line. It happens often, and happens more often to females in politics,” a spokesperson for the MEP said when asked about the reaction to her amendments.

But the spokesperson disagreed that the Metsola amendments were an attempt at watering down the resolution. “The situation in Bulgaria is very messy – what the EPP wants is a rule of law mechanism that treats every Member State equally through an expert-led process… the EU shouldn’t single out countries unless on the basis of facts – this is why the EPP wants a credible and fact-based rule of law mechanism.... I don’t think she’s softening the blow... the intention is to get the resolution back to the negotiating table for further discussion.”

In the vote on Thursday, Metsola and MEP David Casa voted against the resolution, saying rule of law should be measured by a non-discriminatory mechanism – as voted in this week – to “avoid turning it into a partisan political tool.”

“MEP Metsola has always and will always speak up for the protection of the rule of law, but she will not support a resolution that serves to damage the credibility of the Parliament on these crucial issues when negotiations on a new all-encompassing EU rule of law mechanism are taking place – that would only play into the hands of the unscrupulous and the corrupt who seek to damage the credibility of the Parliament on these issues,” a spokesperson for Metsola said.

Labour MEPs Miriam Dalli, Alex Agius Saliba, and Josianne Cutajar voted in favour of the resolution. Labour MEP Alfred Sant abstained, following in a constant pattern of questioning the legitimacy such resolutions, when applied to the Malta government for sure, but equally when applied to other governments. “I cannot but denounce the political hypocrisy, which accompanies the process. During this debate, we saw an esteemed member of the EPP, who has been at the forefront in blindly fomenting and promoting before this Chamber allegations, strictures and sanctions against the government of Malta, the country which she represents here, light a candle for the Bulgarian government and present now amendments in defence or mitigation of its position. This is indefensible.

“In the circumstances, in full coherence with my stance about a process, which I consider to still be a political charade, I had no hesitation to vote against the EPP amendments and to abstain on the final resolution. In no way should this be taken as an explicit or implicit endorsement of what is happening in Bulgaria. To the contrary.”

Rule of law, EPP, Orban...

In its first report on the rule of law last week, the European Commission criticised Bulgaria’s shortcomings on the independence of the judiciary and the lack of senior officials jailed on corruption charges.

The current debacle resembles the EPP’s ambivalent approach to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán before it suspended his Fidesz party’s membership in March 2019 over concerns on rule of law and its anti-Brussels rhetoric. Fidesz MEPs continue to participate in the work of the EPP group in Parliament.

Former PN leader Adrian Delia supported the call for an urgent EPP summit to discuss the position of Hungarian member party Fidesz and suspend Orban. Labour MEP Miriam Dalli had also told MaltaToday that former PN leader Simon Busuttil, now the EPP secretary-general, was conspicuously absent on Orbán’s clamp-down on civil liberties in Hungary.