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Macron’s arms mission in Bulgaria

Boyko Borissov announced that the French president will visit our country because of military business ten days ago. That is why Varna was chosen to host the visit. But it looks like nobody heard the prime minister


An Egyptian Gowind-class corvette (photo: AHMED XIV, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikipedia Commons)

The French president Macron dominated the Bulgarian media reports of the last week. But what was most important about his visit remained in the shadows. It is neither Brigitte’s dress, nor the verbal nonsense of Boyko. Even the drama with “the social dumping” wasn’t the core of Emmanuel Macron’s visit. The real goal of his travelling to Bulgaria was to negotiate joint military projects, and most of all the procurement of French military vessels. The idea about buying French corvettes is old. It has been discussed at government level for the last 12 years without success. It represents an offset deal – the client – Bulgaria, wants to build the ships on its territory.

According to Baricada’s information two days before Macron’s visit to Bulgaria French representatives of the military business have arrived in Varna to acquaint themselves with the Bulgarian shipbuilding industry. The delegation will remain a little bit more around the sea, because there are talks with Bulgarian experts in the next days. In fact, all the three shipyards where the corvettes can be build are located around Varna. That is why the sea capital of Bulgaria was chosen as a host city. The views from the government resort of Euxinograd were in no way the motivation behind Varna’s selection for the noble service to welcome Macron and his delegation.

It was Borissov himself who announced the rationale behind the visit ten days ago. “The goal is not only to answer the needs of both armies, but also to sell military production. We started these talks in Paris. We are prepared with our colleagues. It is not a coincidence that the meeting is in Varna, where the shipyard is”, said Borissov on 12 August 2017 before journalists.

However, Bulgarian media showed curiosity towards the corvettes only in the day of the visit, after their French colleagues wrote that Paris will renew the proposal for the ships. It is not known why the Bulgarian journalists waited for Frenchmen to announce the important news, when their own prime minister has reported them earlier. There is also a curious nuance. Borssiov talks about one possible shipyard for the project and not three.

The corvette saga started a short time after Bulgaria’s entrance in NATO, when our country had to rearm itself. The French company “Armaris” asked to build 4 corvettes in our country (an offset deal) for about 1 billion euro. These were said to be multi-goal vessels “Gowind”. Later the number of the corvettes was reduced to two. After our medics in Libia were released with the decisive support of the Sarkozy family, Bulgaria (represented by Sergei Stanishev and the so-called coalition of the three) promised to buy and build them. But it remained an unkept promise, because money for the deal couldn’t be found by the Bulgarian government.

Also, documents, declassified by Wikileaks, showed that the French have been undermined by a strong competitor – the USA. The Yankees have wanted the scarce Bulgarian money to go for their production, and not for French one. So the Americans have tried to block the deal. Anyhow, it didn’t take place. Everything was calm until 2016, when the Bulgarian ministry of defense announced a project for a step by step construction of two corvettes for around 1 bililion levs (0,5 billion euro). After that silence started ruling again the public space. But Macron came with a thunder in August 2017 and reminded us about the project.

Bulgaria has been trying to renew its infantry armaments and 1,2 billion levs (0,6 billion euro) are allocated for this activity. The rumors have it that 198 military vehicles of various type are to be bought. France is ready to deliver them. “There is a real chance a lot of work to be done in shipbuilding and with regard to the land vehicles”, said Borissov after his meeting with Macron. That is how he underlined that military proposals have been the emphasis of the discussions. It is still an enigma what he meant on 12 August 2017, when he said that “the goal is… to sell production”. Are we going to build automatic rifles together?! And who is going to be their buyer? It will soon become clear.

Somewhere around 2010 rumours had it that the French corvettes will be built in the shipyard “Flotski arsenal”. It is a branch of the state company “Terem” close to Varna. It is specialized in repairing of sea vessels, but also deals with their construction. There hasn’t been another real alternative for quite some time.

However, afterwards two private shipyards – “Bulyard” and “MTG Delphin” received a wave of support. The first firm inherits the former big Varna Shipyard, which is now owned by Industrial Holding Bulgaria.

The second firm has often been connected with the oligarch Kiril Domuschiev. News that the Ministry of Defence prepares a procurement deal for a ship, which is to be won by “MTG Delphin” started coming out a year and a half ago. In response, the firm boasted that it is the only one in our country that builds specialized vessels. Whatever the truth, it is interesting that on 12 August 2017 Borissov speaks about only one shipyards as the place for shipbuilding. Is this a lapsus, given that there are three possibilities, or rather this is making a decision in advance about the winner of a future procurement “contest”. The name of the shipyard “Delphin” is placed at the site of the football club “Ludogorets” as one of the sponsors of the club.

It can’t be said for sure whether Bulgaria and France strike arms deals. This is the mightiest business. Apart from the two negotiating parties, there are always at least two other players that want the projects to fail… But it is clear that the arms sells were mission N1 of Macron’s visit to Bulgaria. There are plenty of insignificant discourses for mass consumption: the Schengen rhetoric that everybody wants to admit us in the space without border, but at the same time we never enter, the words about the Eurozone or the bickering between Macron and Poland.

Just before the start of Macron’s East European visit Romania announced that it will be rearming itself. It aims to have 4 corvettes for 1,6 billion euro. As we know, Macron visited Romania before Bulgaria.

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