Update: In a new blog post, Georgi Ganev has provided a series of graphs illustrating the fact that Bulgaria is as close as it has ever been in fulfilling the criteria for Eurozone membership. As he points out for your amusement, the Eurozone does not fulfill them itself at the moment. The text is in Bulgarian, but the graphs are in English and speak for themselves!
Last night’s (16 January) main news at 20.00 on Dutch channel 1 (nos.nl) contained such a blatant misrepresentation of the facts that I cannot let it pass without making a new category for this blog: Bulgaria, they never checked the facts. I find that this happens more often than it should in different fora, from professional conferences to various Dutch news items, Bulgaria gets added to a group of countries based on people’s feeling where it belongs, with minimal research or reference to the facts. Even though I am often very critical of many aspects of governance in Bulgaria – most Bulgarians are – I find it useful to criticize the country for problems that it does have, instead of ones which it does not. Last night’s news item was a case in point. The journalist reported from Bucharest (not in Bulgaria, by the way) about problems with riots in Romania linked to reforms in the health care system and the crisis with public debt in Romania. Hungary was added as a country where things are getting worse wth debt and mortgages and then there was Bulgaria too, mentioned twice at the beginning and the end. At the end of the report, the journalist literally said that Bulgaria was for the moment free of protest and stable but with this crisis it was only a matter of time, because it has a huge external debt the IMF would be coming and making people’s lives harder and they would protest. In other words, it must be bad there. Now the facts: it takes about a minute to dig up most recent economic data on Bulgaria (here and here for example, via the World bank and Eurostat) and discover that it has been praised by the European Commission for being among the three countries in the EU with the lowest government debt to GDP ratio in 2011, as CNN reports:
The lowest government debt to GDP ratios were recorded in Estonia (6.6%), Bulgaria (16.2%) and Luxembourg (18.4%), according to the Eurostat report.
The IMF has of course been supporting Bulgaria for many years after the fall of communism and there have been so many reforms to deal with problems of the economy inherited from the last decade of communism ( for examples and comments on the most recent economic trends, see updates from prominent Bulgarian economist Georgi Ganev), that both the IMF and its budget advice seemed for a while a feature of the political landscape. Not, as it happens, at this very moment. Standard and Poor’s rating for Bulgaria includes an outlook which is stable, which says something in these times.
The problem with such reporting as what we heard from the NOS last night is not only that it is crap journalism (compare with CNN above), but that it does confirm people’s prejudices instead of helping us understand what governments are really doing in Europe to cope with crisis and debt. Not that life for people in Bulgaria is less hard because the country has one of the lowest debt to GDP ratios in Europe. It might be that the budget is in good shape but quality of life and social spending are too low. Bulgarians are (in)famous for their pessimism (see here an interesting take on why a better economy brings no happiness). But why this is and what the implications are is for another debate, among people who have checked the basic facts first.