Talks between Bulgaria’s largest political parties, hosted by President Rossen Plevneliev on August 1, have failed to break the deadlock in Parliament on the Budget revision bill tabled by the outgoing cabinet of Plamen Oresharski.
The bill passed at first reading on July 29 despite objections from the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), which holds the Oresharski administration’s mandate. The other party in the ruling axis, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), and the opposition party GERB voted in favour.
Irked by accusations that GERB and MRF formed a new ruling axis, GERB leader Boiko Borissov withdrew his party’s support for the bill, prompting Plevneliev to call for talks at the presidency to mediate an agreement.
The meeting was broadcast in full by Bulgarian National Television (BNT), the first time that happened in recent years, with Plevneliev arguing that it was a step towards more transparency and public accountability.
He reiterated his support for the Budget revision, saying that Bulgaria was facing difficult times in the months ahead because of the deficit in the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF), an estimated one billion leva owed to construction companies for completed projects (meant to be paid with EU funds that have now been temporarily frozen), and the prospect that additional spending may be needed soon to prop up the country’s banking sector.
These were issues that the caretaker cabinet, due to be appointed next week, could not tackle if it was not given the necessary room to manoeuvre by passing the Budget revision, Plevneliev said. (The caretaker cabinet, which will govern until a new cabinet is formed following early elections on October 5, has reduced powers and would operate without a Parliament, which is due to be prorogued on August 6 to pave way for the early election.)
Without the flexibility provided by the Budget revision, the caretaker cabinet would be forced to drastically cut funding, a scenario in which, Plevneliev said, he would not hesitate to assign blame to those he held responsible for such a state of affairs.
This drew angry objections from the socialists, who accused Plevneliev of overstepping his powers and becoming directly involved in the electoral campaign on behalf of GERB (the party on whose ticket Plevneliev was elected president in 2011). This was just one of several instances that the talks descended into heated and loud exchanges – each of them involving the visibly-irritated BSP leader Mihail Mikov.
No agreement was reached on how to proceed on August 4, when Parliament is scheduled to hold its last sitting and debate, at second reading, the Budget revision bill. GERB leader Borissov said that his party would provide the necessary quorum for the sitting, but did not intend to vote in favour of the bill.
However, the quorum would allow approving the motion supplementing the NHIF budget by 225 million leva, which the BSP, MRF and GERB are all in favour of – although GERB has criticised the amount as insufficient to cover the deficit expected to accrue by the end of the year.
Before meeting with political parties, Plevneliev also spoke with representatives of Bulgaria’s largest trade unions and employer organisations, making the same arguments presented during the talks with the political parties.