Bulgarian Parliament renounces Bourgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, ministerial assessments, and other stories

Written by on March 12, 2013 in Bulgaria, News - No comments

Bulgaria’s Parliament continued its busy legislative activity on March 12, while a number of ministers from the outgoing Cabinet gave their assessments of their terms in office. Some jottings from The Sofia Globe’s notebook:

• Parliament renounced, at second reading, the intergovernmental agreement with Russia and Greece for the construction of the Bourgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline. The motion was filed last month by the Borissov Cabinet, following “the expiration of the offer made by Bulgaria to terminate the document by mutual agreement”. In December 2011, Bulgaria announced its intention to exit the project, with Finance Minister Simeon Dyankov saying that the proposed pipeline could no longer be built under the terms of the agreement. The project has encountered large-scale opposition from local residents in the Bourgas area, fearful that an oil spill would endanger the region’s main industry, tourism. The costs of Bourgas-Alexandroupolis, as well, were never clear, although most estimates said that the 280km pipeline – envisioned to pump an initial 35 million tons of oil a year, rising to 50 million tons at full capacity – would cost between one billion euro and 1.5 billion euro to build.

• Parliament also rejected a motion put forth by socialist MP Mihail Mikov that proposed a series of measures meant to lead to further reductions of electricity prices. Under the motion, the incoming caretaker government and the State Energy and Water Regulatory Commission would have been required to implement the measures in the coming months. Parliament’s economic policy committee recommended a vote against the motion, which was defeated on parliamentary floor as well. In protest, the majority of socialist MPs present in Parliament walked out of the session.

• At second reading, MPs passed amendments to the law that requires senior civil servants and elected officials to declare their assets each year. The list was expanded to include officials in trade unions and employer associations that are part of the consultative tripartite council, department heads in a number of state agencies (including the National Revenues Agency, the Customs Agency and the Asset Forfeiture Commission), Bulgarian representatives in EU and Nato institutions (including European commissioners and MEPs), but also all board members in companies subject to regulatory oversight by the State Energy and Water Regulatory Commission. An amendment that required board members in non-governmental organisations to declare their property was hotly debated in the legal affairs committee and on parliamentary floor before it was dropped from the bill.

• Among Cabinet ministers giving their assessments, Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov had the most notable news conference – descriptions in Bulgarian media ranged from “emotional” to “electoral show”. A number of people whom the minister described as “crime victims” were given day passes to attend the event, but Tsvetanov said that their attendance was not choreographed – some were invited to attend, but others decided to do so without prompting. The reason for their presence was that media too often ignored the victims of crime in their reporting, Tsvetanov said.

• Regional Development Minister Lilyana Pavlova, predictably, emphasised the Government’s efforts to build new motorways, producing a graphic that showed that the outgoing cabinet had overseen the construction of double the length of highways compared to its predecessor in office. She refused to grade her own performance in office, saying that “the people will do so.” Speaking before the announcement of the caretaker government, Pavlova said that she would be “the happiest outgoing minister” if Ekaterina Zaharieva was appointed to take over the portfolio in the caretaker Cabinet. (Zaharieva and Pavlova were both deputy ministers when President Rossen Plevneliev held the portfolio prior to winning the presidential election in 2011.)

• Health Minister Dessislava Atanassova praised her team’s efforts, but decried the lack of time necessary to pursue comprehensive reforms – Atanassova is the fourth minister to hold the health portfolio in the Borissov Cabinet and spent less than a year in office. She said that she was leaving the healthcare ministry in stable condition: “There will be no chaos tomorrow, no hidden mines exploding or a bad inheritance.”

• Education Minister Stefan Vodenicharov, who spent less than a month in office before the resignation of the Borissov Cabinet, spoke briefly. His deputy, Milena Damyanova, said that the ministry’s biggest failure was that it ran out of time and Parliament did not finish passing the School Education Act.

(Bulgarian Parliament. Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)

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