Creation of a common structure, through which to combine the potential of citizens and experts, as well as the inclusion of the structure in a global network, to help address and solve the problems of growing energy poverty in Bulgaria in the last decade.
Photo courtesy of www.energydemocracy-bg.org
Holding Organisation: NGOs Network, Union of Economists (initiator) Status: NGO Financing: Financial support by the Global Movement for Energy Democracy /TUED/ (coordinating centre - Global Labour Institute, Cornell University, USA) People involved in the project: Representatives of the partner organizations: experts & volunteers Public Partners: NGOs Private Partners: No Creation Date: May 2013 Sources & Links: www.energydemocracy-bg.org; e-mail: unieconom à abv.bg Contact Persons: Hristina Stoycheva
Partner NGOs in Bulgaria establish a Civil Union for Energy Democracy as part of (Bulgarian branch) of the Global Movement for Energy Democracy /TUED/, with the Global Labour Institute, Cornell University, USA as coordinating centre. They bring together their expert and citizen potential for the purpose of implementing the following goals:
- Addressing the climate emergency;
- Containing energy poverty;
- Eliminating damages inflicted on nature by energy technologies;
- Minimising the risks - generated by neo-liberal policies - to citizens’ rights as consumers and to the social protection of workers and specialists in the field of energy.
For the achievement of these goals, CUED-BG shall focus its attention on the following priority tasks:
- Restoring the rule of law and common knowledge in the management of the energy sector;
- De-monopolisation of energy and the public services sphere;
- Decartelisation of energy and public services.
The local context
Bulgaria is the country with the highest poverty rates in the EU. One of the main reasons for such high rates is the high growth of energy poverty (more than 60% of the population). This is owing to the fact that growth rates of costs for electricity and other energy sources are much higher than the growth rate of income.
Many NGOs have been monitoring these processes for a long time and try to influence them in order to reduce energy poverty. The first attempts were directed at the creation of compensatory payments (through social assistance) for the most vulnerable groups. Observations have shown that the trends for a rapid increase in energy prices (and therefore an increase in energy poverty) are extremely high and the compensatory payments cannot reduce their effects on the rise in poverty across the country. It has also become clear that the dynamics in the energy prices is a direct consequence of inadequate policies as well as a lack of democracy and civil participation in decision-making processes.
The starting point
In February 2013 Bulgaria was hit by a wave of mass protests against the high, unsupportable bills for electricity, heating and water. Some of the protesters even went so far as to set themselves on fire. Further protests erupted around demands for resignation of the government, which subsequently relinquished its power.
One of the main conclusions when analyzing the reasons for this situation was that the energy sector’s strategies and policies have been inadequate for a long time. The European Commission also supported the vision that these policies should change.
At this time the Union of economists in Bulgaria initiated a meeting on these issues. The conclusions following this meeting concerned both the need for market reforms (as recommended by the EC) and the need for “energy democracy” (that is, participation of civil-expert structures when formulating policies).
How does it work
Monitoring and analysing the trends in the energy sector, the Union of economists was well-informed about the energy crisis which had led to a political crisis as well. Working on these issues it established contacts with the Global Movement for Energy Democracy (TUED) and the idea to establish a Bulgarian branch of the movement emerged. Meanwhile, contacts with potential Bulgarian partners intensified.
The Bulgarian partners accept TUED’s programme document, adopted in November 2012: RESIST, RECLAIM, RESTUCTURE: Unions and the Struggle for Energy Democracy. In July they all signed a Founding charter to establish Civil Union for Energy Democracy -Bulgaria (CUED-BG/. A Round table also took place, during which the situation in Bulgaria together with EU policies in the field were presented. The initiative received media-wide coverage.
Participation and governance
Founders of the Union are the following NGOs: Union of Economists in Bulgaria; Association “Active Consumers”; Union of Energy Workers in Bulgaria; European Anti-Poverty Network – Bulgaria; Northeastern Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Association of Home Workers; European Youth Initiatives; Students for Energy Democracy.
The activities of the Union are open for participation to all stakeholders.
Added value of the project
The initiative not only provides opportunities for citizens: with regard to national socio-economic conditions, the successful development of the initiative could make a huge contribution to the reduction of poverty and social exclusion, as well as expand citizen participation in policy-making in a key sphere of the Bulgarian economy. Both are basic requirements for policy improvement.
Because the types of resources used are mainly untangible, i.e. knowledge, expertise, the network can highlight the core resources by making them public and forwarding them into the political process of decision-making.
The country's energy sector is highly monopolised and the established monopolies are able to organise strong lobbying in favour of the status quo in the sector and the current inadequate policies in relation to it.
To broaden the partcipation in the CUED-BG and expand the range of proposed alternatives in the formulation of policies and strategies in the energy sector. We need as well to strengthen the influence of CUED-BG on the political process of decision-making.
Proposals for change
We consider collective citizenship important in the search for solutions. In this regard, we need to develop alliances between research centres in social and political sciences and authentic (not theatrical) civil society structures. There is a need for adequate financing to develop such alliances.
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