The negotiating team for GERB wrapped up its first round of talks with other political parties on October 19 and Boiko Borissov’s party will move to deciding on options for partners for second-round negotiations on a possible future coalition government.
GERB’s three-person team met six out of seven of the other parties elected on October 5 to Bulgaria’s 43rd National Assembly, the final meeting being with Georgi Purvanov’s socialist breakaway ABC.
With GERB and ABC both praising the positive tone of talks while admitting serious differences on issues in the fiscal, economic and security sectors, GERB’s Roumyana Buchvarova indicated that the party could continue consultations with ABC at “expert” level.
Buchvarova said that the issue of a “grand coalition” remains open while Purvanov declined to be drawn on whether his party, one of the two smallest in the new Parliament with 11 seats, ultimately would support a centre-right government.
The differences between GERB and ABC lie in areas such as Belene nuclear power station – the GERB government shut down the plans but Purvanov’s party wants the project continued – as well on the South Stream gas pipeline project and pension reform.
There were differences on fiscal policy, with GERB wanting the flat tax system retained and ABC favouring a “progressive” tax system and a tax on financial transactions.
GERB indicated it was willing to take on board ABC proposals that there be a new policy drafted on demographic development.
Buchvarova said that the GERB negotiating team’s overall position was that the background of the main similarities and differences meant that there was an opportunity to continue consultations at expert level “to see if we can move closer together”.
GERB and ABC agree on the need for a stable majority for the new cabinet, not a minority cabinet.
ABC has underlined it would like to see a grand coalition including the major party “but that is a question that depends on the decisions of other parties, so the issue remains open,” Buchvarova said.
There were differences on the role of the state, with GERB wanted it limited but with reinforced control functions, while ABC wants the role of the state increased.
Tsetska Tsacheva, chief negotiator for GERB and who is also expected to be elected Speaker of the 43rd National Assembly, said that discussions involving GERB representatives at all levels would be held on October 20, and decisions made about further talks.
The talks with ABC on October 19 were the final in a series of first-round talks to which GERB, winner of the largest share of seats in the 43rd National Assembly – 84 out of 140, invited the other seven parties that won seats.
Ahead of the talks, GERB leader Boiko Borissov said that it would not be possible for GERB to form a goverment by itself with only 84 MPs.
Borissov said that he wanted to form a coalition goverment with a broad base in Parliament, an agreement with clear rules and “shared responsibilities”. Depending on the outcome of negotiations, parties that declared support for the future government would get cabinet posts.
The first-round talks were held from October 13 to 19, with the sequence of the daily meetings determined by the number of seats each party had won.
This meant that the first two meetings were with the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the parties of the May 2013-August 2014 ruling axis.
GERB had said in advance it did not want these parties back in government. The party’s negotiators indicated that an MRF overture of support had been turned down.
While both the BSP and MRF would not be in the cabinet, the first-round talks with each established some areas of common ground with GERB’s proposed policy priorities for governance.
The third day’s meeting, with the centre-right Reformist Bloc, had been much anticipated.
This was because the Reformist Bloc, holder of 23 seats in the new National Assembly, was seen as most compatible with GERB in terms of political outlook. However, the question of a relationship with a GERB government has been a deeply vexed issue within the bloc before and after the October 5 elections.
After more than six hours of talks, the GERB-Reformist Bloc meeting ended inconclusively, with varying interpretations about whether there would even be further talks.
GERB attributed the absence of an agreement to the Reformist Bloc negotiators not providing the GERB team with answers to important questions – whether the Bloc would be a stable and reliable partner, whether it would accept Borissov as Prime Minister, and how many of the parties in the Bloc were ready to sign a coalition agreement.
The GERB team also came across as baffled by the complex legal structure governing the operations of the Reformist Bloc.
Reformist Bloc negotiator Petar Moskov indicated that bloc was ready to continue negotiations “tomorrow” (in one of the few light moments of the negotiations, this produced an outburst of laughter at the post-talks news conference, among negotiators and journalists wearied by the six-hour marathon) in an attempt to get a deal on a future government.
Moskov underlined that the bloc’s view was that a political framework had to precede decisions on the specific actions of the next parliament and government.
In the ensuing days, as GERB continued its first-round meetings, it remained unclear whether there would be further engagements with the Reformist Bloc.
Also keenly watched was the Thursday meeting with the nationalist Patriotic Front, which produced a provisional agreement on the front, which will have 19 seats in the National Assembly, supporting the future government.
However, whatever future agreement may emerge with the Patriotic Front will be a double-edged sword, with other parties expressing specific misgivings about the possible presence of xenophobic political forces in government.
In contrast to the four hours spent with the BSP and the three hours with the MRF – both parties with which GERB did not intend to govern – and the six-hour session with the Reformist Bloc, the meeting with representatives of Nikolai Barekov’s populist Bulgaria Without Censorship (BWC) was broken off after just two hours.
The GERB negotiating team said that there would be no further meeting with BWC.
Strikingly, ahead of the talks, BWC issued a statement saying that it was ready to abandon most of its policy positions to co-operate with a GERB government.
But emerging from the broken-off talks, the GERB team said that they were certain that the BWC representatives did not present the common political position of their party, but just personal opinions. The GERB team said they were worried because of the discrepancies between BWC’s election programme and their current opinions.
At the meeting with BWC, the ritual of working through GERB’s 18 policy priority positions was not completed.
The two teams discussed only four out of 18 and reached agreement on only one – Bulgaria’s Euro-Atlantic orientation. GERB said that it was clear that there were significant and serious differences about the others.
BWC said that while they would not be participating in the government, they would look at who became ministers and what the government programme would be and then decide whether to support the government.
A meeting that GERB had scheduled with Volen Siderov’s far-right ultra-nationalist Ataka for October 18 did not take place.
Repeating a previously-used stunt, Siderov demanded that the talks be broadcast live on television, with other journalists present.
A few days earlier, Siderov had made a similar demand when President Rossen Plevneliev convened a meeting with representatives of all eight parties to discuss the date of the first meeting of Parliament. Siderov walked out when the demand was not met.
A no-show at the parliamentary meeting room that was the venue for all the talks, Siderov and his cohorts instead held a news conference in the corridors of the National Assembly – first ordering the removal of the EU flag that customarily stands alongside the Bulgarian flag at the venue.
Siderov said that the “schematics” of the next government had been clear for a long time and they did not include his party.
He said that Ataka had wanted the proceedings broadcast live “because we do not want to be part of underhand dealings. I had a bitter experience with GERB, they lied to me in my face”.
GERB negotiator Roumyana Buchvarova (speaking at the same news conference venue at which proceedings began by the EU flag being put back in its place) said that Ataka’s refusal to come to the meeting was disrespectful not only to them, but also to Ataka’s electorate, Bulgarian democracy and the parliamentary system.
Buchvarova said that GERB had wanted to ask Ataka why “secretly, tacitly, in contrary to all the rules of openess and transparency” it had supported the 2013/14 “Oresharski” cabinet.
“We wanted to ask them what was the cost of their support and whether Mr Volen Siderov and his party are ready today to bear the responsibility for any negative consequences of this government,” Buchvarova said.
Parliament will hold its first formal meeting on October 27 and parliamentary groups will be formally constituted.
The formal formation of parliamentary groups opens the way for the constitutional procedure by which the head of state offers a mandate to govern to the prime minister-designate from the largest parliamentary group – GERB, and thus, Borissov.
Should the attempt by the largest parliamentary group fail, the mandate would be handed to the second-ranked party, the Bulgarian Socialist Party.
But in the event of matters getting to this stage, it seems clear there will not be a repeat of the 2013 scenario, in which the BSP ran second in the elections but ended up with the mandate to govern because GERB was unable to form a parliamentary majority.
Speaking to local media on October 18, BSP spokesperson Atanas Merdzhanov said that the BSP would immediately return a mandate to govern. The BSP would be better off dealing with its own internal problems in the coming months, he said.
Constitutionally, should matters come to this in the next few weeks, failure by the largest and second-largest parliamentary parties to form a government leaves the option for the President to hand a mandate to a third party – not necessarily the third-largest but one of his choice. In what currently is seen as an improbable scenario, Rossen Plevneliev would have six parties to choose from.
(Photo: of GERB negotiators Roumyana Buchvarova, Menda Stoyanova and Tsetska Tsacheva: gerb.bg)