Bulgarian Prime Minister Denkov tables resignation of his government

Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov tabled the resignation of his government on March 5, with the We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria coalition calling for it to be voted on in the National Assembly on March 6.

Coming days may determine whether Bulgaria gets a new government or heads to early parliamentary elections in June along with the country’s European Parliament elections on June 9.

Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov, in office since June 6 2023, has said repeatedly that his government will table its resignation in Parliament on March 6, with the plan being for a new government to be voted in, headed by current Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Maria Gabriel.

That, at least, was the plan – for a “rotation” – agreed to between the We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria coalition and Boiko Borissov’s GERB-UDF coalition that enabled the Denkov government to be voted into office after Bulgaria had trudged through a succession of fruitless parliamentary elections.

Since the beginning of 2024, there has been daily speculation in the media about the “rotation”, daily questions to government and political leaders about it – questions that have not resulted in meaningful answers, given that no meaningful negotiations had got underway – and near-daily sniping between prominent figures in the “non-coalition”, “the assemblage”, supporting the government.

On the eve of March 6, Borissov got, as expected, a mandate from his party to propose to WCC-DB a written coalition government agreement. The document’s title, however, avoids the word “coalition”, instead using “co-governance”.

There has been ample back-and-forth over this issue, with WCC-DB proposing a memorandum and last week rejecting the idea of a formal coalition agreement, saying that the time for one is not ripe.

GERB’s proposal is a government that would remain in office for the rest of the life of the current National Assembly, meaning three years, with the Prime Minister’s chair being swapped after 15 months instead of nine.

Against the background of a prolonged tussle over who should hold the foreign affairs portfolio in a future cabinet, with GERB-UDF not backing down on insisting that Gabriel should be PM while retaining the post of Foreign Minister, while Denkov becomes Deputy PM and Education Minister.

With WCC-DB hoping that the vote on the resignation of the Denkov government will be held in the National Assembly on March 8, Borissov has named a negotiating team headed by Gabriel for talks with WCC-DB.

Borissov, who has recently threatened early parliamentary elections if no agreement may be reached, spoke against them on March 5, citing the clear divisions in Bulgarian society evidenced by the incident at Liberation Day celebrations two days earlier in which National Assembly Speaker Rossen Zhelyazkov was booed while attending the ceremony at Shipka Peak.

Last week, WCC-DB co-leader Kiril Petkov said that the narrow time-frame for negotiations – just two days – amounted to Borissov staging a “one-man show” aimed at new elections.

The March 5 GERB national conference saw several verbal attacks on the previous governance formula, on WCC-DB’s proposals and on the government’s performance.

Borissov singled out for attack Finance Minister Assen Vassilev, Defence Minister Todor Tagarev, Economy Minister Bogdan Bogdanov, Sports Minister Dimitar Iliev and Tourism Minister Zaritsa Dinkova.

GERB deputy leader Tomislav Donchev said that the “rotation” in its current form would be pointless.

“If we go back nine months, we will see that then there was no other way out to get the country out of the continuous cycle of elections. The essential question is whether the result was worth it. I’m afraid you will give a negative answer,” Donchev said.

He said of the current Cabinet, only Gabriel had produced results.

Gabriel told the conference: “There is no way to continue the trend of attributing everything good that has been done in the country for the last nine months to WCC-DB, and everything bad and unfinished to be associated with GERB”.

In the GERB document, the main priorities are sustainable public finances in view of Bulgaria’s candidacy for the euro zone, continuing the fight against corruption, accelerated socio-economic development, modernisation of the country, the acceptance of Bulgaria’s land borders in Schengen, and unconditionally following a European and Euro-Atlantic path.

The first task is judicial reform with the adoption of a new Judiciary Act, followed by a new law on confiscation of illegally acquired property.

The document says that the reshuffle at the top of the security services that WCC-DB seeks should be discussed in the the government security council, not in the TV studios.

“Quota-based distribution in the security services, based on political representation, is unacceptable. Interference in personnel policy and the work of the services represents a threat to national security,” the document says.

Denkov, speaking after GERB unveiled its document, said that he would comment after reading it, but said that there was a proposed document on the table was a good start for negotiations.

“Ms. Gabriel and I have had conversations, but as we’ve both always said up until now, you’ll see the end result when it’s all laid out on the table,” Denkov said.

“Neither of us is willing to present his version of our discussion because that would only hinder reach a positive result. it is key for us to define how the reforms will continue. The selection of the key persons will be done in a way that will be convincing to the public and will set new standards of governance, of the justice system, of the anti-corruption commission, regulators,” he said.
Gabriel said that it is important to preserve the constructive dialogue between her and Denkov.

Regarding the allocation of ministries she said that before answering the question of who will be the minister, two other questions are important – what and how.

“Very clear direction, very clear reforms, very clear principles, very clear mechanism of work.

“After that – how, this is something we will continue to discuss and only then will the question of what positions are and who holds them,” Gabriel said.

She said that she and Denkov would “do everything possible – I believe – to ask and discuss the questions we are now asking ourselves. So that we don’t ask them again later”.

In a statement in the late afternoon, the WCC-DB parliament group said that it saw the result of the March 5 GERB meeting as “a step towards creating an atmosphere for constructive dialogue”.

“We express satisfaction that a large part of the points proposed in the WCC-DB memorandum have been adopted and discussed with the necessary seriousness in the agreement proposed by GERB.”

The statement said that for WCC-DB “the stability of the country and its sustainable development for a foreseeable long period are a top priority”.

“However, an irrevocable and fundamental task is to ensure the continuation of reforms in the judiciary, the security services, the election of honourable and expert members of the regulators, the full membership of Schengen and the euro zone.

“This must be done with clear commitments, which excludes the formation of majorities outside of the two parliamentary formations,” the group said, in a clear reference to rejecting the notion of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms as a member of the majority.

“We assess the situation at the moment as particularly important for the future of the country and therefore call on our colleagues from GERB to start the negotiations as soon as Mrs. Maria Gabriel is back in the country. The WCC-DB negotiating team will consist of the leaders of the coalition and the current Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov.

“For us, every contract is a promise between the parties, and good promises are promises kept. That is why we will propose tomorrow that the National Assembly effectively accept by voting the resignation of the government of Nikolai Denkov,” the WCC-DB statement said.

(Photo: government.bg)

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