In his New Year’s address for 2011, president Georgi Parvanov tried to instill some enthusiasm into a predominantly gloomy atmosphere with a rallying call for national ambitions that are more important than mandates and political party lines. All he really needed to do was to define a goal so that we could remember his second term in office which expires this year. But in a largely hollow speech on well-worn topics, the head of state simply served up yet another dose of the rhetoric we have been hearing for the last decade.

Having joined NATO in 2004 and the European Union in 2007, Bulgaria has arrived at a juncture where it appears to have run out of national causes. In pursuing goals that were a powerful motivating force, we entered into a period of transition that quickly became an interminable crisis. The illusion that the better governed and richer states in the EU were going to put us on the right track was still alive this time last year, when we still had hopes of joining the euro and the Schengen Area. In early 2010, a bucket of cold water was thrown over our hopes for the euro. Then in December, we were turned down for Schengen. So what do we do now?

An empty head on a muscular body

For the first time in years, we have rung in the New Year without any clear idea of where the country is going. We are still fighting to get the budget deficit down to less than 3 % of GDP — which is one of the Eurozone’s main requirements. And we might even succeed if the government is willing to wipe out health care, education, research... and the poor. Bulgaria could become the only country to present a barebones European semester budget (in line with the stipulations of the new system to supervise spending by member states) with provisions to pay the army, the police, intelligence services and the judiciary... but no one else. At least, our country would show up as a curiosity on the budget scanner: as a sort of sort pumped up body with an empty space between its ears, which you might say is a relatively accurate portrayal of our political elite.

On the issue of Schengen, Sofia is planning to pursue the mirage all the way to the horizon, in spite of the veto imposed on Bulgaria by two of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s best friends in the EU — French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel — hope springs eternal. In the run-up to a deadline in March, Bulgaria will continue to work on the fulfillment of “technical crietria” and then we will have until September to make a good show of removing human and political obstacles. The technical criteria amount to little more than the massive purchase of Western surveillance and border control equipment, with help from funds provided by these same Western countries — no problem there.

Put the kingpins behind bars for organised crime

However, the other conditions, added at the last minute by France and Germany, are much harder to fulfill. What is required is major progress in locking up the Bulgarian organised crime bosses who organise the illicit traffic of alcohol, arms, drugs and illegal migrants across our borders. The trouble is that they will have to be joined in prison by certain notable members of our political elite (including some former “police colleagues” of our prime minister Borisov) who are guilty of looking the other way or even participating in trafficking. As it always does, the European Commission will conduct a two-stage assessment of compliance, with an intermediate report in February and an annual report in July. In September, the Justice and Home Affairs Council (JHA) will say if it agrees with the Commission’s conclusions — and over the last four years, it has consistently approved them.

At that moment, Borisov will have no other option but to give up on Schengen. There will be no other way forward, not unless he is suddenly overcome by a noble ambition to jail the gangsters — including a few who claim to be his friends. And that in itself will not be enough. He will also have to disclose full details of their links with the executive, legislative and judicial branches of state power, because that is the only way that these gangsters can be successfully prosecuted and sentenced.

But our current government is unlikely to be swayed by such lofty ambitions, so we might as well forget Schengen, which leads me to the big question: do we have any other goals for 2011? Not really. Not unless we want to take President Parvanov’s advice to look positively on life in this country which is certainly not “the saddest place in the world.” [Parvanov was alluding to a recent article in The Economist which ranked Bulgaria last in a “Geography of Happiness” survey which took into account both life satisfaction and income data].