Bulgaria’s cabinet should draft a new plan for the development of the armed forces, but there will be no update of the defence budget in 2015.
Defence spending will increase over a period of 10 years until it reaches two per cent of GDP, but this process will begin from 2016. The current defence budget is about 1.16 per cent of GDP.
This emerged after a three-hour meeting on April 27 of the Consultative Council on National Security, convened by head of state President Rossen Plevneliev.
Council meetings are called by the head of state and attended by the Prime Minister, key cabinet ministers, security and intelligence chiefs and representatives of all parliamentary groups.
The council meeting was held against a background of calls by Plevneliev for an increase in defence spending to meet Nato obligations, and against the background of a new proposal by Nikolai Nenchev, Defence Minister in the current centre-right coalition cabinet, for a huge increase – to 2.5 billion euro – on a number of modernisation projects, including acquisitions of new fighter jets, naval vessels and armoured vehicles.
In a briefing broadcast live on national television and radio after the meeting, Plevneliev said that there was an ongoing and long-term deterioration of the security environment in close proximity to Bulgaria’s borders.
The democratic community faced growing challenges to ensure an international legal order based on the rule of law, democratic values, human rights and freedoms, he said.
Defence and the armed forces were a strategic priority for the state, Plevneliev said. Bulgaria’s membership of Nato was the strongest guarantee of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bulgaria, he said.
Bulgaria was determined to contribute to the implementation of the shared solutions agreed to within Nato, which were aimed at adapting it to the changing security environment, he said.
The capabilities of the Nato defence alliance were based on the capabilities of member states, he said, adding that if one or more members of the alliance did not improve their defence capabilities and fulfill their responsibilities, this would affects the security of the entire alliance.
Announcing the recommendation that the cabinet start work on a new plan for the development of the armed forces, Plevneliev said that the council supported the principle of non-reduction of the defence budget and gradually increasing the percentage of GDP allocated to defence.
Plevneliev said that the government’s plan would be based on a programme that would be discussed and adopted by the National Assembly.
The position adopted by the council was supported by all parties in Parliament, with the exception of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party and ultra-nationalist far-right party Ataka, which also has a track record of a pro-Kremlin line.
Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said that after the council meeting, Bulgaria’s military officers and the army could be certain that the state would do its best to ensure normal working conditions for them.
But he underlined that in 2015, there was no extra money for defence. Borissov said that he had explained this to Bulgaria’s alliance partners.
“Pension, infrastructure and education come first,” Borissov said, adding that in 2016, additional revenue collection by tax and customs authorities, as well as measures against corruption and smuggling, could make military reform possible.
It was not his government to blame for having bought frigates that had no armaments, Borissov said, referring to acquisitions in the past decade, while at the same time, the state had to come up with 3.5 billion leva because of the Corporate Commercial Bank collapse.
This meant that in 2015, “there are bigger priorities” than the military, Borissov said.
He reiterated his statement of a few days earlier, that new fighter jets would be acquired when the money was available.
A Nato member since 2004, Bulgaria has a small and ageing fleet of Russian-made military aircraft, and so far has not succeeded in its plan to acquire Western-made fighters that would meet Nato compatibility standards.
Media reports said that Nenchev had come up with the 2.5 billion euro plan for defence modernisation, a sum more than double that initially envisaged, even though it was clear that Borissov opposed any immediate increase in defence spending.
While the council meeting was proceeding, there were two rival demonstrations outside the building.
One was in support of Defence Minister Nenchev, with banners and slogans such as “Bulgaria – a secure and loyal member of Nato” and “this is not Moscow”, while the other, backed by Ataka, took an anti-Nato line.