Bulgarian head of state President Rossen Plevneliev has concluded his 2016 round of political consultations with representatives of all groups in the National Assembly and will sum up his conclusions in an address to Parliament on March 18.
Plevneliev, who took office as President in January 2012, has made a tradition of annual consultations, in the early months of the year, with all parliamentary groups.
Whether the 2016 round will be his last remains to be seen as neither Boiko Borissov’s GERB, the party that fielded him in the 2011 presidential elections, nor Plevneliev himself have announced whether he will be a candidate in Bulgaria’s autumn 2016 elections. Bulgaria’s constitution allows a head of state two terms in office.
Plevneliev’s “month of political consultations”, as his office terms it, stretched from February 29 talks with the two smallest parliamentary groups, socialist breakaway ABC and Volen Siderov’s Ataka, to a March 9 meeting with GERB, the largest party in Parliament – with 84 out of 240 MPs – and the majority partner in Borissov’s coalition Cabinet.
With GERB’s delegation, headed by parliamentary group leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Plevneliev discussed reforms in justice and home affairs, energy, education, the administration and e-government, the water sector as well as measures taken in response to the wave of migration.
A topical issue of the day, which had made headlines in the Bulgarian-language media on the morning of March 9, was a Constitutional Court ruling overturning some provisions of Health Minister Petar Moskov’s Health Insurance Act.
The Constitutional Court ruling led to opposition calls for the resignation of Moskov, a member of the Reformist Bloc quota in the Cabinet, although Moskov has signalled no intention of doing so.
Plevneliev told the GERB delegation that the court ruling was a normal democratic procedure and he urged the government to continue efforts to reform health care.
The GERB delegation told Plevneliev that its top priority was the continuation of judicial reform and anti-corruption legislation, in response to the recommendations in the most recent European Commission report on the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), the arrangement put in place when Bulgaria joined the EU in January 2007, to bring the country’s up to the bloc’s standards in the judiciary and law enforcement.
GERB said that its agenda included amendments to the laws on the Criminal Code, Civil Procedure Code and the Commercial Register.
Tsvetanov said that GERB wanted “deeper dialogue” on reform of the Interior Ministry and to this end, a “public consultation involving all stakeholders” would be held at the National Assembly on March 15. Tsvetanov, a former interior minister in the first Borissov administration from 2009 to 2013, said that the legislative changes in the sector should correspond to the recommendations in the EC’s CVM report.
The meeting with GERB also covered policy on control over public spending, improvement of revenue collection and measures to promote economic activity by creating preconditions for increasing consumption and improving the environment for medium, small and micro-enterprises, a statement by the President’s office after the meeting said.
The talks identified the achievement of political stability as particularly important in domestic politics in 2016.
Plevneliev reiterated a call for “intensified and constructive dialogue” among the political parties in the current Parliament.
The talks also included a shared rejection of populism and extreme nationalism in a situation of unprecedented migration pressures in Europe, the President’s office said.
In the complicated international situation Bulgaria should conduct a smart and balanced foreign policy to support efforts to achieve a common European solutions. “At this decisive moment for Europe, Bulgaria can be a European voice in the Balkans,” Plevneliev said.
Speaking after the meeting, Tsvetanov said that he had a very positive political assessment of the activities of Plevneliev in the past year.
Plevneliev’s penultimate meeting, held on March 7, was with the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), which has 38 MPs.
BSP leader Mihail Mikov urged Plevneliev, as head of state, to convene the Consultative Council on National Security to discuss the demographic crisis, which Mikov said had become even worse this year.
Mikov said that the government should take specific and urgent measures, at very least increasing child benefits. Plevneliev responded that one of the meetings of the consultative council in 2016 would be on the demographic crisis.
The BSP leader said that there was a risk of instability in 2016 as parties chased votes ahead of the presidential elections. According to Mikov, the stability of the ruling coalition was based on arithmetic rather than the fulfilment of election promises.
In the talks with the BSP, Plevneliev said that combating poverty, reducing inequality in society and achieving social inclusion should be the focus of a long-term programme for the development of Bulgaria up to the year 2030.
The BSP delegation expressed concern about the increasing financial obligations of the state, which it said was approaching 30 per cent of GDP, as well as the pace of reforms in health, education and the pension system.
Mikov also emphasised that the fight against corruption cannot be the sole responsibility of the judiciary or a specialist unit, adding that legal changes were required to regulate more precisely the process of procurement.
Earlier on March 8, Plevneliev met the triumvirate leadership of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), Parliament’s third-largest party, which has 30 MPs.
One of the three acting leaders of the MRF, Mustafa Karadaya – put in place after the late 2015 ouster of Lyutvi Mestan – told reporters that Plevneliev had agreed with the MRF on its views on the economy and the development of Bulgaria, that the priority should be on family and small and medium-sized businesses, especially in the agricultural sector.
A statement by the President’s office after the meeting with the MRF said that Plevneliev and the MRF delegation had agreed that support was needed for the development and financing of small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as to encourage investment in the agricultural sector.
“I approve of every effort targeted support to ensure the prospects of family, small and medium enterprises in Bulgaria and recovery of their business,” Plevneliev said. The President also called for specific measures to ensure that there are resources for different types of farming.
“Mountainous and rural regions of the country need a sensible policy, but Bulgaria has a lot of opportunities and potential for promoting the development of alternative agriculture,” Plevneliev said, adding that agriculture will continue to be one of the strategic sectors, not only nationally but also globally.
The MRF told Plevneliev that in the current National Assembly, the party would continue to be constructive and open to dialogue in its opposition to the ruling majority. The MRF called on other parties to “behave constructively”.
Another of the MRF triumvirate, Chetin Kazak, said that the current geopolitical and domestic situtations called for more stability and security, and this was the main responsibility of the political forces in Parliament that make up the ruling majority. Sound management of the country was vital, especially in the heat of the migrant crisis, Kazak said.
The MRF stated support for reform of the justice system.
“We will support all reasonable ideas that lead to the existence of a truly independent and fair judicial system that meets the expectations of citizens, but is not exposed to external undue influence,” Kazak said.
The MRF would support meaningful ideas in the proposed anti-corruption legislation and effective mechanisms, which however “should not be used as levers for assault against political opponents”.
On March 7, Plevneliev held talks with the Reformist Bloc, which has 23 MPs. The centre-right coalition bloc joined the coalition government in November 2014, but one of the constituent parties, Radan Kanev’s Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria, went into opposition after the resignation of Hristo Ivanov as Justice Minister after Ivanov was frustrated by changes to constitutional amendments that had been intended to achieve progress towards judicial reform.
Kanev, who took part in the March 7 talks with Plevneliev, said that the Reformist Bloc delegation had sought Plevneliev’s assistance on the most important issues regarding reforms.
The meeting between the Reformist Bloc and Plevneliev covered external risks to Bulgaria, the migrant crisis in Europe and the top-priority reforms needed in 2016, including judicial reform, anti-corruption legislation, foreign policy and security, defence, health care and education.
Reformist Bloc parliamentary co-leader Naiden Zelenogorski said that the delegation had raised the issue of Bulgaria’s under-developed areas. “Further efforts are needed, and we got the President’s support for more massive investment in projects in these backward areas,” Zelenogorski said.
Plevneliev said that a solution to accelerating the advancement of underdeveloped areas can be sought in investment in energy efficiency, education and innovation.
Plevneliev said that 2016 was decisive for both judicial reform and the fight against corruption. People had long been waiting for resolute action at all levels.
On March 7, Plevneliev met a delegation from the Patriotic Front, which has 18 MPs.
The talks between Plevneliev and PF co-leader Krassimir Karakachanov, whose nationalist parliamentary group supports the coalition government in the National Assembly without holding seats in the Cabinet, saw agreement that Bulgarian citizens expect concrete results of reforms undertaken in various sectors to restore a sense of solidarity in society and trust in state institutions.
Karakachanov saw the demographic crisis as a particularly acute problem in Bulgaria, along with the trend of marginalisation and social exclusion of large groups of Bulgarian society.
He said that the lack of adequate access to health and education is a factor as the inability of many to follow economic and social integration and in the growth of domestic crime.
Karakachanov said that additional measures to increase security in small settlements, as well as changes in the insurance model that would stimulate responsible parenthood in Bulgaria, were necessary.
He said that the PF wanted public debate on the re-introduction of military training for Bulgarian citizens and said that his group intended tabling legislation to bring back conscription.
On March 2, Plevneliev met a group from the Bulgarian Democratic Centre, which has 14 MPs.
The main emphasis during the talks was judicial reform. The BDC expressed some reservations about the proposed anti-corruption legislation, while while declaring readiness to discuss any new proposals on anti-corruption measures.
On February 29, Plevneliev met the delegation from ABC, headed by parliamentary floor leader Roumen Petkov. ABC, which has 11 MPs, was founded by former Bulgarian Socialist Party leader and former president Georgi Purvanov, who is not an MP and did not attend the talks with Plevneliev.
At the meeting with ABC, Plevneliev said that a new spiral of political instability should not be allowed in 2016.
The main emphasis in the talks was on reforms in the justice and security systems as well as in the sectors of education, health care and the pension system, a statement by the President’s office after the meeting said.
Plevneliev and the ABC delegation emphasised the need for dialogue both within the ruling coalition and the National Assembly to achieve support for the ongoing reforms and to improve the quality of the legislative process.
In this respect, transparency and predictability in legislation is particularly important for the stability of the country, it was agreed.
Plevneliev expressed strong support for the approach of dialogue between the partners in government in the drafting of legislation in the fight against corruption and continued reform of the system of justice.
The ABC delegation said that unpredictability and lack of transparency was creating tension in the security sector ector and discouraging employees.
ABC called for an increase in the budgets of special services to be able to effectively perform their functions in a complicated security environment. The party called on Plevneliev to convene the Consultative Council on National Security to discuss prospects for development of the security sector against the background of the European migration crisis.
The President’s office said that Plevneliev had told the ABC delegation that the presidential institution supported Bulgaria’s nomination for the post of Secretary General of the United Nations.
Bulgaria has nominated Irina Bokova. Ahead of the nomination by the current government, ABC threatened to withdraw its support for the government unless this was done.
The Ataka delegation at the February 29 talks with Plevneliev was headed by party leader Siderov, who has a patchy track record regarding talks with Plevneliev in recent years, sometimes boycotting them, sometimes turning up when not invited.
This time, Siderov, who has 11 MPs, was there, and the talks covered the current political situation in the country, measures to implement reforms in 2016, the strategic objectives of the Bulgaria 2020 plan and the preparation of a Bulgaria 2030 plan.
According to the President’s office, the main topics of the talks were amendments to the constitution, the forthcoming reform of the judiciary, the migration crisis and protecting the Bulgarian borders, the problem of human trafficking, and the blockade on the Bulgarian border with Greece (which at the time was still continuing).
The statement said that Plevneliev and the Ataka group agreed that Bulgarian citizens expected justice and that therefore judicial reform should be continued.
Plevneliev said that that changes in legislation must be implemented after extensive public debate, if they are principled and lead to progress, not to adapt the system to one or another person. He issued an assurance that he would use his constitutional powers to support the implementation of the most important reform of 2016, that of the judiciary.
The Ataka group told the President that Greece should be taken to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg over the Greek farmers’ blockade of the border, in order to obtain compensation and to avoid similar cases in the future.
“Bulgaria should take advantage of existing EU mechanisms that apply to similar cases to defend its national interests,” Plevneliev said.
In discussions on the migrant issue, Plevneliev said that Bulgaria is the only country on the road to Germany, which registers and verifies migrants entering the country.
Measures against illegal human trafficking had been accepted by the Consultative Council for National Security, when it was decided to build a fence along the border with Turkey. “But we must distinguish between people fleeing from the horrors of war and economic migrants,” Plevneliev emphasised.
(All photos: president.bg)