Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev said on February 18 2013 that he was “not indifferent” to the nationwide mass civil protests of recent days.
“The protests started over high electricity bills but their roots run deeper,” said Plevneliev, a former cabinet in office as head of state since January 2012 after being elected on the ticket of Bulgaria’s centre-right ruling party GERB.
“As I have said many times, the bigger problem is the sense of injustice, the low incomes and high unemployment. Politicians should heed the people,” Plevneliev said.
He said that he was on citizens’ side and he guaranteed that their voice would be heard and that the relevant institutions would work.
Reacting to calls from protesters and some political quarters that the foreign-owned electricity distribution companies in Bulgaria should be re-nationalised, Plevneliev said that nationalisation was not a solution.
“One of the reasons for us being poor is that every four years (the constitutional interval between parliamentary elections in Bulgaria) we start from scratch – some have been privatising, others want nationalisation so that a third group can privatise again. Nationalisation is not a solution,” Plevneliev said.
He called on parties to “stop with the slogans” and come up with specific proposals to reduce people’s electricity bills and to boost transparency and efficiency in the system.
“I expect a debate in Parliament,” Plevneliev said.
In an apparent reference to calls from opposition parties for the government to resign to make way for an “expert government” and early elections, he said that in the brief history of democracy in Bulgaria, “we have tried everything – there were early elections, expert cabinets, programme governments. Today citizens’ confidence is based on concrete and clear commitments and results. I call for a nationally responsible approach,” Plevneliev said. “Everyone should be led by the principles of democracy and a constitutional state.”
Government reshuffles were always one of the instruments available to the executive and the legislature but they were just part of the solution.
Plevneliev said that difficult structural problems had been piling up in the energy sector in Bulgaria, which was functioning inefficiently and with insufficient controls.
“We all pay the price for this,” Plevneliev said.
“A lot of checks are underway. I insist that the checks cover all the units in the chain – besides the power distributing companies, the Bulgarian Energy Holding, National Electricity Company and State Energy and Water Regulatory Commission should be inspected. The findings of the checks should be released as soon as possible,” Plevneliev said.
He reiterated calls that he has made repeatedly in recent months for liberalisation of the energy market and for energy efficiency, which was the only thing that could halve electricity bills. People should be able to choose their power suppliers, he said.
“Swift legislative measures are necessary to set up a strong, effective and independent regulator in the energy sector. The Public Tenders Act has to be amended to erase loopholes for irregularities,” Plevneliev said.
People should know what they were paying for and prices should be competitive, not “monopolistic”, he said.