The first day of March and the latest day of Bulgaria’s national political crisis produced another round of developments and dramas. Some jottings from The Sofia Globe’s notebook:
• The latest, and to date most official, proposal about changes to electricity prices was announced by the State Energy and Water Regulatory Commission. If agreed, from March 5, electricity prices will go down by 6.7 per cent for CEZ customers, 7.3 per cent for EVN customers and 5.3 per cent for Energo-Pro subscribers.
• The “Public Council” convened by President Rossen Plevneliev held its first meeting amid criticism, walkouts and Plevneliev’s own vision for what it would and would not do. Plevneliev said that participants would be divided into groups to work with the forthcoming caretaker cabinet on policy in their respective portfolios. He said that it would not be a shadow government nor a substitute parliament. He called for stability and said that it could not be expected that an interim government of 15 people would fix everything. Meanwhile, some of the protest leaders walked out, objecting to the presence on the council of those they were fighting – powerful business leaders – while the leader of the CITUB trade union federation quit the meeting, objecting to the presence of political scientists and sociologists who, he said, represented no one but themselves.
• The “Public Council” came under criticism from outside, of various kinds. People in Bansko who want their ski areas extended said that they would protest and block a major road unless a major environmental conservation activist was expelled from the council. Some of the protesters said that the protest leaders invited to the council meeting did not represent them. Yane Yanev, leader of a minority party, said that the makeup of the council showed that Bulgaria actually would be run by the “long arm” of Ivo Prokopiev, a Bulgarian businessman who owns various endeavours and who has been in the headlines recently mostly for his attempts to resolve some of their debt problems. Lyutvi Mestan, leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, said that the public council included “problematic and controversial” people, though he declined to identify them by name. Mestan said that his party would, on March 5, go ahead as planned with declining a mandate to attempt to form a government, and said that the caretaker government should not include people bound by corporate and political interests.
• The ahead-of-term national parliamentary elections on May 12 2013 were expected to cost about 21 million leva (about 10.5 million euro), Bulgarian-language site Mediapool said, quoting what it said were estimates by the Cabinet. The estimated budget has been sent to various institutions for discussion pending a final decision. The national referendum held on January 27 2013 had been estimated to cost 14 million but immediately after it ended, Finance Minister Simeon Dyankov said that the real number was closer to 20 million to 25 million leva. No official figure of the cost has been released.
• In her first comment on the latest developments in Bulgaria, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva told Bulgarian journalists in Brussels that “some of the protesters’ proposals are reasonable, for instance, more state control over the monopolies and streamlined and regulated management of the monopolies”, Bulgarian news agency BTA said.
• Excerpts from a transcript of remarks made by Boiko Borissov at the March 1 cabinet meeting: “We would be vulnerable if we had clung to power. Now we can with an absolutely clear conscience be among these discontent people, because we are also discontent…I am not very pleased, you see the figures. Everyone may interpret them as they wish, but these are the figures. I also wanted to govern the state is a time of growth as it was in 2007-2008, but I hit the severest financial crisis. And you see the countries – one sinking beneath another. It is not as easy as they think. But I say it once again – this is democracy and we proved that their myths in Bulgaria collapsed, which wanted to say for this government. Dictator …? But you see, they did it, their headquarters worked very well. But we were preoccupied about building Danube Bridge 2 by May, finishing Trakiya motorway by May, allotting funds for Struma project, getting a lot of things done, we omitted these ongoing processes. And the shooting of Zlatomir Ivanov aka the Beret, and the so-called Buda file followed by several statements made by (Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Sergei) Stanishev and Lyutvi Mestan about peace, about tension and in other words, that we will leave…From now on we must to think on two things, because obviously people like the infrastructure, but not enough. We need to think how to move the economy, to increase income, reduce unemployment…people are tired of being in dispute with one or another. Ultimately we need to be ready in the coming months about what can actually be done and how it should be done. Now everyone who deals with the management knows that a government can have three or four priorities, because it is impossible to fulfill more than four, that is written in any book. This should be something that should be considered the most because we raised pensions since the first day we came into power. Stanishev raised them only on paper, but we began to pay actually, but it remained somehow that if they took it as a decision, and we pay out almost one billion each year for pensions during the biggest crisis”. Borissov told the Cabinet that he was “convinced” that there was a conspiracy against his government involving the electricity bills.
• President Plevneliev briefed the ambassadors of EU and Nato countries to Bulgaria on March 1, assuring them that Bulgaria will remain stable in the coming months, the President’s press office said. He told the diplomats that the top priorities for the forthcoming caretaker government would be the safeguarding of the country’s financial and institutional stability and producing fair and transparent national parliamentary elections. Plevneliev emphasised the importance of the 42nd National Assembly – the one intended to be elected on May 12 – taking steps to ensure economic growth, employment, energy market liberalisation and energy efficiency.
(Main photo, of Plevneliev and the ‘public council’ meeting: president.bg)