Bulgaria’s coming coalition government spells out policies – all the details

Written by on April 13, 2017 in Bulgaria - Comments Off on Bulgaria’s coming coalition government spells out policies – all the details

A migration policy that prevents foreigners from being in the country illegally and expels illegal migrants, increased border security, the linking of social assistance to school as well as kindergarten attendance, increased defence spending, unchanged direct tax rates, a “pragmatic” foreign policy and active co-operation with military and patriotic organisations to build patriotic feelings among the youth.

These are among the policies agreed between Boiko Borissov’s GERB and the nationalist United Patriots for their coalition government, intended to serve a full four-year term, to implement.

The policies were outlined in a 21-page document posted online after GERB and the United Patriots announced that they had agreed on them, with negotiations on the members of the coalition cabinet to start after the four-day Easter weekend.

A number of the policies are distinctly recognisable as emanating from the worldview of the United Patriots, an electoral coalition of three nationalist and far-right parties that ran third in the March 26 elections on a strongly nationalistic and law-and-order platform.

The document pledges that the new government will implement policies to prevent foreigners staying in the country illegally, and to expel those found doing so. It also commits to increasing the capacity of border security.

It envisages “effectively countering terrorism, organised crime and corruption” and developing effective programmes to prevent radicalisation and extremism.

If the policies are carried out, Bulgaria will have a police presence in every village and a new law on private security companies that will “improve the interaction between police and private structures to prevent conventional crime”.

On foreign policy, the document says that this will be guided by pragmatic pursuit of the national interest and non-interference in the internal affairs of Bulgaria – the latter an apparent reference to a prominent issue in the March 2017 election campaign, allegations of Ankara actively trying to affect the outcome of the vote.

Bulgaria will continue firmly on the path of Euro-Atlantic integration, while the Bulgarian state will seek to defend the legitimate interests of Bulgarians abroad – an apparent reference to recent seething controversy over proposals, reportedly pushed at the insistence of President Roumen Radev, that could cut back voting rights of Bulgarian expatriates.

Bulgaria’s foreign policy will be to expect reforms in the EU to be based on principles and values of European solidarity and equality in mutual respect of interests and trust among EU countries.

“Prospects for the fragmentation of the EU after the (Brexit) referendum in the UK seem more real,” the document says, adding that the existence of different levels of integration of member states into the EU is a source of instability.

“We stand for preserving the unity of the EU and we welcome further future deepening of the integration between member states,” according to the policy document.

The document says that the importance of Euro-Atlantic integration is growing amid the increasing influence of “third countries” in the Black Sea region and the Balkans. “Cooperation between Nato and the EU should necessarily deepen in such circumstances.”

A successful Bulgarian presidency of the EU in 2018 would contribute to strengthening the position of Bulgaria in the EU, the document says.

“Coordination with Estonia and Austria on the programme and priorities within the trio presiding in the period July 2017 – December 2018 will lead to setting goals, enhancing security, economic activity, protection of consumer rights and protecting the interests of Bulgarian communities abroad.”

The document says that a sustainable solution to the problem of migration can be achieved only by joint efforts among all countries affected or at-risk. The EU’s priority should be stopping the influx of migrants at Turkey’s borders – land and sea.

The policy will be to press for a “radical reform” of the Dublin Regulation (on the return of refugees to the EU country where their entry was first registered) so that “the burden of the processing of applications for international protection is not borne by countries on the front line”.

There are several points in the regional policy section, including safe and modern road infrastructure, a mixed system of road taxes and a “strong government policy” on balanced regional development to assist under-developed regions of the country.

The document envisages further implementation of the national programme for energy efficiency of residential buildings, and expanding the programme to cover brick-built multi-family and single-family residential buildings.

On social policy, the document calls for increasing income through employment and greater labour productivity, and foresees that during the term of the new government, the statutory minimum salary will increase to 650 leva (about 332 euro) and the average salary to 1500 leva (about 767 euro).

The document adds that child care should cover all children, not just those at risk. The payment of social benefits should depend not only on school attendance but also on kindergarten attendance.

The minimum pension will increase from a current 167 leva a month to 180 leva from July 1 2017 and again to 200 leva from October 1 2017.

All pensions granted before 2010 will be recalculated and funds will be saved by eliminating improperly granted disability pensions (on the campaign trail, this was another of the United Patriots’ key talking points, about which their politicians alleged abuse of the system by Bulgaria’s Roma minority).

The policy document also pledges – with no further detail – “adoption of a system of measures to overcome the negative demographic trends” – another topic that nationalists in Bulgaria have made a signature issue.

On financial policy, the document says that “a stable financial system is a fundamental prerequisite for sustainable economic development and maintaining an attractive investment environment”.

It sets as the main objective Bulgaria’s further integration into the European financial infrastructure.

“The single banking union and the euro zone are our natural path of development and fulfillment of all criteria”. Until then, the document says, there is “no alternative” to the Currency Board mechanism. This mechanism was put in place after the financial and economic crisis in Bulgaria in the 1990s under a socialist government, and links – in its contemporary form – local currency the lev to the euro at a fixed rate.

The document envisages the rates of direct taxation remaining unchanged, and the threshold for mandatory registration for VAT remaining unchanged. It also envisages “decisive measures to combat the grey economy”.

It commits the government to striving for a balanced budget by reducing the deficit by 2017 in line with the three-year budget forecast in each subsequent year to reach a balanced budget in 2020.

The document pledges improved management of EU funds.

On defence, the document say that Bulgaria is an “active and reliable member of Nato and the EU” and will actively participate in the preparation and implementation of the new EU policy on European defence.

This is an approach somewhat different from that advocated by Volen Siderov of Ataka, one of the tripartite alliance within the United Patriots, who frequently has wanted Bulgaria to hold a referendum on quitting Nato.

The document says that Bulgaria will increase defence spending until this reaches a level of two per cent of GDP by the time the government’s four-year term ends.

Among other steps, including bringing the reserve forces up to strength and improving the mobilisation capacity of the country, the document says that there will be “active co-operation with military and patriotic unions and other NGOs for patriotic education of youth and the preservation of the traditions of the Bulgarian Army”. Military training will be introduced in schools, the document says, in another policy point taken from the United Patriots’ repeated talking points.

The document commits to the “continuation of judicial reform to ensure an effective, fast and fair judiciary”.

It adds that a new anti-corruption law will be adopted that will unify the fragmented legislation and create a single anti-corruption body.

It goes on to pledge amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code, a new path to prosecuting high-level corruption, a new Penal Code, and introduction of e-Justice by the end of 2018 “as one of the strongest anti-corruption measures relating to the judiciary”.

The document envisages the introduction of quarterly reports by the Prosecutor-General and the presidents of the Supreme Court of Cassation and the Supreme Administrative Court to the National Assembly including on policy to combat corruption, organized crime and domestic and other issues of high public interest.

Other pledges include to implement the 17 recommendations in the European Commission’s report on Bulgaria’s performance under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, intended to bring the country up to EU standards in justice and home affairs.

The document commits the government to raising education to a strategic national priority, while “patriotism in the education system should be the basis for education and upliftment of the Bulgarian spirit, a means for forming a sense of solidarity in society and devotion to the homeland”.

Among other steps in education, the policies agreed including doubling teachers’ pay by the end of the government’s term and “decisive measures” to lower dropout rates.

The document also foresees increasing entrepreneurship skills among school pupils and more sport as school, to bolster health and discourage aggression.

In the health sector, the several policy points include ensuring financial stability and security of the health care system and stabilising the health insurance model.
on of the provisions of the Gambling Act deduction of 10% for the National Fund “Culture”.

The environment policies include improving air quality in urban areas.

The document says that Bulgaria’s economy has two major problems, the resolution of which would lead to sustainable economic growth – the administrative burden on businesses and the lack of a developed capital market.

It envisages the adoption of a special law on reducing the administrative burden on businesses and the reduction of regulatory regimes to the minimum required by EU law.

The policy would be to support the development of economic zones by funding measures to promote investment. Another step would be the transfer of ownership to municipalities of military sites deemed unnecessary.

The energy policies envisage energy security through own production in Bulgaria, and the continuation of the exploration of the Black Sea through a procedure for prospecting in the Teres block. There would be, according to the document, support for exploration in the Khan Asparouh and Silistar blocks “to ensure competitive energy prices, energy security and substantial income from royalties”.

Other steps in energy policy are listed as energy security through building interconnections between Bulgaria and the neighbouring countries, full market liberalisation of electricity and gas, and continuation of activities to extend the lives of the fifth and sixth units of Kozloduy nuclear power station.

The policy document also envisages promoting Bulgaria as a year-round tourist destination, with tourism advertising and promotion abroad focusing on cultural and historical tourism and tourist attractions, summer seaside tourism, winter tourism and development of ski infrastructure, spa tourism and “golf tourism, eco tourism, adventure, wine, gourmet and other types of tourism”.

(Main photo: Two of the United Patriots’ co-leaders – Volen Siderov and Valeri Simeonov, and GERB leader Boiko Borissov)

/Politics

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About the Author

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015).