A scandal which erupted in Bulgaria today motivated me to tell you the story of the illegal activity of two German political foundations – the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and the Hanns Seidel Stiftung. In the concrete case which appalled me, the Konrad Adenauer political foundation commissioned an edition dedicated to Bulgarian politics in 2020, hired an editor who is a respected journalist and approved all authors and their topics. However, it refused to publish the edition in the end because it deemed that the articles written by experts were “against the government”.
Of course, this is an example of censorship, but this censorship is just the cherry in a toxic cocktail which Bulgaria has been drinking since 2006 when Boyko Borissov’s GERB party was created. Let me give you its recipe.
Foreign Financing of Parties in Bulgaria is Illegal in Any Shape and Form
Let us see what the law says, so that you get a taste of the first ingredient. According to the Law on Political Parties in Bulgaria – namely its Article 24 – foreign financing of political parties is illegal. Pursuant to Article 24(1) 4, political parties cannot receive funding from foreign governments, foreign state entities, foreign private companies, and foreign non-profit organizations. Pursuant to Article 24(2), political parties can neither receive movable and immovable property for gratuitous use nor gratuitous services in any form from these entities. In turn, Article 152 of Bulgaria’s Election Code forbids the financing of election campaigns by Bulgarian legal entities, foreign governments, foreign state entities, foreign private companies, foreign non-profit organizations, etc. Individual EU citizens (non-Bulgarian) may finance campaigns for elections at which they can vote. To illustrate, they can finance a campaign for municipal elections, but not for parliamentary elections.
What Are the Konrad Adenauer and Hanns Seidel Foundations?
“Political foundations” are a key feature of German political life. They are state-subsidized foundations affiliated with German political parties. In other words, they are financed with the money of German taxpayers. Currently, there are six political foundations in Germany. The Konrad Adenauer political foundation is the foundation of the CDU, Angela Merkel’s party. The Hanns Seidel political foundation is the foundation associated with the CSU, which operates only in Bavaria, and is an ally of the CDU. On paper, all of these foundations have very noble goals – they claim to promote democracy, freedom, justice, etc. In countries like Bulgaria, however, they seem to engage in different activities.
The Konrad Adenauer and Hanns Seidel Political Foundations Finance Borissov’s GERB Party
It may be illegal for these political foundations to finance political parties in Bulgaria or provide services to them, but they still do. We know this from Mr. Borissov himself.
In 2019, at a congress held by GERB, he told the Konrad Adenauer political foundation in public that thanks to them, GERB was “financially independent”.
In 2017, Borissov declared: “At GERB, we have always been grateful to the Konrad Adenauer and the Hanns Seidel foundations which provide all financing for our seminars, for round tables, so that we do not have to seek financing here and there”.
From a very interesting article published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, which was translated in English, we learn how supportive the Hanns Seidel foundation has been in the establishment of the GERB party – its program, statutes and internal rules were copied from those of the CSU. From a recent op-ed by Borissov’s former right hand Tsvetan Tsvetanov, we learned that the Hanns Seidel political foundation even came up with the name of Borissov’s GERB party.
From a recent opinion piece by a former German Deputy Ambassador to Bulgaria, we received a better glimpse of CSU’s political engineering in Bulgaria and their dedication to Boyko Borissov. You can find more information about Konrad Adenauer’s involvement with GERB, which can be qualified as financing and gratuitous services in breach of the law, here.
The fact that there is so much public information about these law breaches, but no consequences have followed only shows how sick Bulgaria’s democracy is.
It Is Not Just About Financing…
It is certainly not just about financing because these investments in Borissov’s GERB party are part of a bigger package. The CDU is a member of the European People’s Party, just like GERB. The EPP is the most powerful party at an EU level – it traditionally dominates the EU Parliament and the EU Commission. It has been very committed to defending Borissov’s autocracy. I have spilled much ink on this very blog – you can take a look at the “All Articles” section on my blog to learn about the disastrous impact which GERB has on Bulgaria. EPP members use German taxpayer money to finance and support GERB.
But there is more! Look at Bulgaria’s rule of law report under the new rule of law mechanism! I am personally troubled that an EPP-dominated Commission quotes a report by the Konrad Adenauer foundation as a source on Bulgaria. It may be a great report, but there is certainly a conflict of interest here – it is a report by a foundation financing the GERB party. This calls for a big disclaimer.
Of course, representatives of these political foundations have been quite diplomatic with Borissov for years. The latest censorship scandal which pushed me to write this post also provides evidence that there is something murky.
Lack of Transparency
From the yearly reports by Borissov’s GERB party it is impossible to see where their financing comes from – take a look at a thread I started on Twitter. The annual reports of the political foundations have very little information on spending, too.
Considering that these foundations spend the money of German taxpayers, it seems that German civil society deserves to know how much money has been invested in GERB, how many gratuitous services have been provided to them, etc. Their money has been spent on a party promoting rule of law decay and human rights abuses.
We, Bulgarians, also deserve to know – this is foreign interference in violation of the law, which has impacted our democracy.