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The Buzz in Bulgaria: Interview with Stefana Tsekova of Schoenherr

The Buzz in Bulgaria: Interview with Stefana Tsekova of Schoenherr

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"The majority of us will be more than happy to see 2020 behind us,” laughs Stefana Tsekova, Local Partner at Schoenherr Sofia. “But luckily for us at Schoenherr, it was a good year, especially for big ticket deals. We advised on the Vivacom deal, valued at 1.3 billion euros, making it the biggest deal ever on the Bulgarian market. It started before the Covid crisis hit, but luckily it continued. We actually advised on another big transaction on the energy sector as well — the acquisition by Enery Development of the biggest photovoltaic plant operational in Bulgaria, with 50 MW installed capacity [as reported by CEE Legal Matters on September 15, 2020]. So in terms of deals we were lucky.”

As elsewhere, Tsekova says, sectors of Bulgaria’s economy that depend on people moving about, such as tourism, hospitality, and transportation, were seriously hit, “but other sectors, like mining, actually recorded growth, so overall, more or less, it was a good year.”

When she’s asked whether firms in Bulgaria suffered financially, she says that some firms were forced to lay off some of their junior lawyers, or reduce salaries, “but nothing huge.” She says that Schoenherr was not forced to take those steps. "We didn’t,” she says, "because we were quite confident that things would get better — and, of course, we were quite fortunate with these two big deals. What we did instead was to reduce our business week to four days during the shutdown.”

The political situation in Bulgaria remains unstable, she says, looking back on the street protests that dominated much of the year. “Those protests are not really still happening,” she says, "because of Covid-19 and the restrictions on going out, so at some point they stopped, but this does not mean that people are happy.” And she says the decrease in protests cannot be attributed to an effective government response to the crisis. "We have a lot of debt cases in the health system, which was not able to handle everyone, and the political action plan was not set properly either.” She rolls her eyes. "It’s tempting to say 2021 will be better because there’s no way to go but up,” she says, laughing grimly, "but policies that might increase the ability of the economy to recover are connected to institutions like transparency and fairness. In April we will have parliamentary elections, and it will be of utmost importance that they will be well-organized and transparent.”

She concedes that most predictions see the ruling party retain power, but she says that "some changes will certainly occur.” Ultimately, “it's really important to organize proper elections,” she says, placing knowing emphasis as she says, "because this is Bulgaria.” She notes that the media in Bulgaria is regularly ranked as near or at the bottom in Europe on terms of independence  “However,” she says, “there are certainly movements in this regard, as United Group, in addition to its acquisition of Vivacom, a few months ago also acquired a big network of TV channels, and PPF’s acquisition of Telenor a few years ago was quite big [as reported by CEE Legal Matters on March 26, 2018], as was its subsequent acquisition in 2019 of CME [reported on November 6, 2019], which holds a lot of TV channels in the region, including, in Bulgaria, one of the largest national channels.” As a result, she says, "there are certain hopes, I would say, that they will be able to reflect the political realities in an independent manner so that people can really see what the government is doing.”

Is she optimistic? “In-between,” she laughs. "We are always hopeful, but never really hopeful. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.”

Finally, she says, turning back to the economy, “there should be opportunities in 2021 linked to the European Green Deal, which is good for Bulgaria.” She says Schoenherr is already working on several major transactions in the renewable sector, “and we expect greenfield investments in the sector to increase soon.”

Schoenherr at a Glance

Schoenherr is a leading full-service law firm providing local and international companies stellar advice that is straight to the point. With 15 offices and 4 country desks Schoenherr has a firm footprint in Central and Eastern Europe. Our lawyers are recognised leaders in their specialised areas and have a track record of getting deals done with a can-do, solution-oriented approach. Quality, flexibility, innovation and practical problem-solving in complex commercial mandates are at the core of our philosophy.

Firm's website: www.schoenherr.eu