Bulgaria’s lawmakers passed the government’s Budget revision on July 31 after two days of debate, most of it spent in sniping between MPs for the ruling coalition and opposition party GERB.
The bill envisions increasing the Budget deficit by 493.4 million leva, raising the deficit target to two per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), which will still keep Bulgaria well short of EU’s three-per cent deficit ceiling.
The MPs also voted to approve a one-billion-leva increase in the annual borrowing ceiling was done in order to boost government spending. (For more details on the Budget revision bill, see The Sofia Globe report here.)
GERB was the only party in Parliament that opposed the Budget division. Among the parties outside Parliament, it is also opposed by the Reformist Bloc – a nascent working group of minority right-wing and centre-right parties without seats in Parliament but said by a recent poll to have a good chance of seats were elections held now.
Alongside the opposition parties, economic policy think-tanks in Sofia have also argued against the revision, saying that the revenue shortfall this year, expected by the Plamen Oresharski administration, was not sufficient grounds for a Budget revision.
Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev too said that there were many unanswered questions about the Budget revision. In an interview earlier this week, Plevneliev said that he was prepared to veto the bill, but said that he would await the outcome of the debate in Parliament first.
Plevneliev’s veto could be overturned by a simple majority of 121 MPs in the 240-seat National Assembly. The ruling majority between the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the ethnic Turk Movement for Rights and Freedoms has 120 MPs, and would require the explicit support of ultra-nationalist party Ataka to overcome the presidential veto.
Such support was hardly improbable, with Ataka leader Volen Siderov repeatedly clashing with Plevneliev in recent months and even suggesting the launch of impeachment procedures. On August 1, Siderov gave the clearest sign that he might support the ruling coalition in a vote to overturn the veto, saying that imposing the veto would be a clear sign that Plevneliev was “carrying out party orders from GERB.” (Although not a member of GERB, Plevneliev served as minister in the GERB cabinet led by Boiko Borissov and was elected president on the party’s ticket in 2011.)
“This would not be a statesmanlike decision because it is obvious that there is a need to carry out this revision; this is a technical [revision], not a fundamental one,” Siderov said, as quoted by news agency Focus.
Socialist Finance Minister Petar Chobanov said he hoped that the president would not use his veto power, allowing “the budgetary process to proceed smoothly and in a normal fashion.”
Socialist leader Sergei Stanishev said that a presidential veto would set a precedent “given [the President’s] constitutional powers and his role in political life.” Stanishev said that he would be surprised if Plevneliev became the first Bulgarian President to veto a Budget bill.
However, Parliament records show (in Bulgarian) that such a veto was imposed before, by President Zhelyu Zhelev in July 1996, overturned by Parliament with a vote in September 1996. Zhelev later filed a suit with the Constitutional Court, which ruled that the Budget provisions that Zhelev objected to were indeed unconstitutional.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)