Negotiators for Bulgaria’s nationalist coalition Patriotic Front and majority party GERB emerged from more than three hours of second-round talks on a future government to describe their meeting as “very productive” and to say that the Patriotic Front would support a GERB government without getting cabinet seats in exchange.
The October 23 talks were preceded by a statement by the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament, of which Bulgaria’s Movement for Rights and Freedoms is a member, condemning the possibility of a future coalition government being formed with the participation of extreme right-wing populist parties.
GERB negotiator Roumyana Buchvarova, addressing reporters alongside the Patriotic Front leaders after the talks, said that the meeting had discussed 94 specific proposals on the Patriotic Front agenda.
“And I think it was a very fruitful discussion, to clarify our positions,” Buchvarova said.
She said that GERB and the Patriotic Front had common understanding of crucial and very important measures as well as the steps that the next government should take regarding Corporate Commercial Bank, financial stability and the energy sector.
“We accept their insistence on a re-examination of the energy sector so that the wisest decision can be arrived at.”
There was agreement between GERB and the Patriotic Front for discussions to continue between discussion groups.
The differences were not in principle but over how to achieve the priorities in health care, education and other areas where reforms were needed, Buchvarova said.
It had been agreed to continue discussing the form of a joint government, after the Patriotic Front said that it would support the government without having cabinet seats.
Patriotic Front co-leader Valeri Simeonov, leader of the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria party, said that political parties in the Front coalition would not participate in the government.
He said that GERB and the Patriotic Front were very close to signing a programme for stable governance. The meeting had established “almost 90 per cent” convergence on the Patriotic Front’s 94 points, according to Simeonov.
The ALDE European Parliament group statement on October 23 called on GERB leader Boiko Borissov, whose party received the majority of the votes in Bulgaria’s parliamentary elections held on October 5, to form a stable government “built on European core values respecting the rule of law and fundamental rights”.
ALDE President Guy Verhofstadt said: “A future coalition government should stand on a democratic basis and unite the nation, not divide it.
“The worst case outcome of the coalition talks would be a government involving extreme nationalist entities such as the populist parties’ Patriotic Front ‘and’ Ataka ‘. The ALDE group is concerned that such a coalition could additionally slow down the actual European integration of Bulgaria,” Verhofstadt said.
The ALDE statement echoes the line taken since the October 5 elections by its member party the MRF.
The MRF was a key element of the ruling axis that was in power from May 2013 to August 2014.
GERB has said that it does not want the MRF in a coalition government and in first-round talks, turned down an MRF offer of unilateral support. Other parties that made it into the new Parliament have specified that they would not be prepared to work with the MRF.
The message from ALDE on October 23 comes against a background of political appeals going in the other direction in months past, from Sofia to the European Parliament.
This happened when the ruling axis of the MRF and the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the latter the formal holder of the mandate to govern, had the tacit support of Ataka.
There also was controversy when the MRF put forward Delyan Peevski, the controversial figure who was the catalyst for anti-government protests in June 2013, as a candidate MEP. Peevski won his seat but declined to take it up, and now again has been returned to the National Assembly.
Meanwhile, the possible participation of the Patriotic Front in a GERB-led coalition led to statements by NGOs ahead of the October 23 second-round talks.
According to a report by public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio, the European Network Against Racism’s Elena Dyankova sent an open letter to GERB leader Borissov objecting to the involvement of the NFSB and the VMRO.
Dyankova said that the xenophobic statements by these parties in the midst of the refugee crisis of autumn 2013 contributed to the creation of hostility and hatred towards ethnic minorities.
She said that GERB should not compromise and should not provide to access to future government coalitions to formations that, she said, had “anti-democratic and xenophobic attitudes towards the rights and freedoms of Roma, refugees, Turks and others”.
Kalina Bozeva of the Interethnic Initiative for Human Rights said that ahead of the election, there had been no clear line on how each party would manage the multicultural realities of Bulgaria.
Now negotiations on the government of the country had been embarked on without any value orientation where this would be on the agenda from the outset, she said.