Bulgaria’s new government – what, if anything, has changed?

Last week Bulgaria’s National Assembly approved the composition of the new government, following the victory of the centre-right party, GERB, at the snap elections held on 26 March 2017. Following the election, GERB’s leader, Boyko Borisov, became Prime Minister for the third time in eight years.

GERB failed to secure an absolute majority at the election (winning only 32.65% of the popular vote). The Bulgarian Socialist Party, which came second (with 27.20% of the vote), rejected GERB’s offer to form a broad coalition.

GERB therefore had no choice but to join forces with the United Patriots, an anti-immigration and anti-Turkey alliance of three nationalist parties that won just over 9% of the vote. The alliance consists of VMRO, historically linked to Bulgaria’s interests in the Macedonian region, Ataka, a populist pro-Russian party, and NFSB, which seeks to revive the Bulgarian economy and a fight against monopolies.

The Turkish minority liberal party, DPS, also refused to support a coalition with a strong nationalist presence, despite the United Patriots toning down their rhetoric against the Roma and Turkish minorities. Prime Minister Borisov says he is confident that this time, his government will last the full four-year term.

In the meantime, the Bulgarian right-wing parties will have to decide how to react, with the fragmented right wing vote suffering a major setback at the election. The ‘Yes Bulgaria’ party, which ran on an anti-corruption platform, surprised many with its success in attracting large support among young professionals and expats across the EU, having only been in existence for less than a year.

For those who voted for change, the election result has brought little optimism. A vote for GERB was seen as an attempt to contain the Bulgarian Socialist Party who won the Presidential race in 2016. Critics say that GERB will hold back from implementing much needed reforms that would guarantee the independence of the judiciary (an area where the European Commission has been particularly critical) and address corruption at the highest level.

As part of their governing programme, the two coalition partners plan to maintain the 10% flat rate of income tax, boost economic growth, which reached 3.4% last year, and join the pre-euro exchange-rate mechanism. Other priorities include pension and wage increases and new anti-corruption laws. Energy security will be ensured with domestic gas supply, a gas hub and interconnectors, as well as full liberalisation of the electricity and gas markets.

Despite the positioning of the United Patriots, the new government reiterated Bulgaria’s pro-EU stance. In January 2018 Bulgaria will take over the six-month EU Council presidency which will be overseen by GERB’s Minister Lilyana Pavlova. The draft Presidency programme, which is expected in June, will be the first test of the United Patriots’ stance on EU issues.

Impact on Brussels

One of the first tasks of the new government will be to fill the position of the Bulgarian EU Commissioner. It is likely that PM Borisov will do his good friend President Juncker’s a favour, and nominate a female EPP-affiliated candidate. It has been rumoured that hard-working MEP Maryia Gabriel could take over the digital portfolio, even though she is not well known in Bulgaria and has little experience of digital issues. Most of the EU’s digital agenda legislation has already been proposed and her job would be focused on ensuring smooth inter-institutional negotiations. Other names that have been suggested are that of Gergana Passi, former Minister for European Affairs and deputy Foreign Minister, as well as Ivaylo Kalfin, former S&D MEP and former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy PM. The nomination will be discussed during the first government meeting on 10 May.

Below you will find a list of some of ministers that will form PM Borisov third cabinet and will invariably chair various EU Council meetings as of 1 January 2018.

Borisov cabinet #3
Name,

political party

Position Background
Boyko Borisov,

GERB

Prime Minister

Founder of GERB in 2006

Voted in as PM twice before, in July 2009 and in November 2014

Neither government served a full term

Tomislav Donchev,

GERB

Deputy Prime Minister Minister of European funds in Borisov cabinet #1 and Deputy PM responsible for European funds and economic policy in cabinet #2

Expert in EU-funded programmes

Valeri Simeonov,

United Patriots

Deputy Prime Minister for the Economy and Demography Leader of the NFSB party

MP since 2014

Co-owner of a TV broadcaster

Ekaterina Zaharieva,

GERB

Deputy Prime Minister for Judiciary Reform and Minister for Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister for Regional Development and Public Works in Borisov cabinet #1

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Regional Development in two caretaker governments

Head of Cabinet of former President Rosen Plevneliev

Minister for Justice in Borisov cabinet #2

Lawyer

Lilyana Pavlova,

GERB

Minister for the Presidency of the Council of the EU in 2018 Minister for Regional Development and Public Works in Borisov cabinet #1 and Deputy PM and Minister for Regional Development in cabinet #2

Background in financing

Krasimir Karakachanov,

United Patriots

Deputy Prime Minister for Public Order and Minister for Defence Leader of VMRO since 1997

Elected as MP in 2005 and in 2014

Identifies with the politics of Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán

Vladislav Goranov,

GERB

Minister for Finance Deputy Minister for Finance Borisov cabinet #1 and Minister for Finance in cabinet #2

Former bank executive, advocate of strict fiscal policies

Valentin Radev,

GERB

Minister for Interior Affairs Deputy Minister for Defence in Borisov cabinet #1

Specialist in military weapons. Favours military presence along the southern borders to protect against immigration

Temenuzhka Petkova,

GERB

Minister for Energy Deputy Minister for Finance in the 2014 caretaker government

Minister for Energy in Borisov cabinet #2

Ivaylo Moskovski,

GERB

Minister for Transport, Digital technology and Communications Former deputy Minister for Transport and Digital technology

Minister for Transport in Borisov cabinet #1 and #3

Tsetska Tsacheva,

GERB

Minister for Justice First female Chair of the National Assembly of Bulgaria
Nikolay Petrov Minister for Health Minister for Health in the 2013 caretaker government

Former head of one of the biggest hospitals in Bulgaria

Emil Karanikolov Minister for Economy Former Head of The Privatization and Post-Privatization Control Agency

Lawyer

Neno Dimov Minister for the Environment Former deputy Minister for the Environment

Founder of the right-wing party DSB

Former member of EEA management board

Part of the EMEP/EEA air pollutant emission inventory guidebook

Rumen Porozhanov Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forests

Former Minister for Finance in the 2014 caretaker government

Former CEO of Bulgaria’s Agricultural Fund, the executive agency allocating EU subsidies to farmers

Senior management positions in several large companies

 

Mariana Varbanova is Senior Consultant at FTI Consulting in Brussels

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