Bulgaria: GERB-UDF to ‘give up’ bid to form government

In a moment of melodrama at a late-night news conference on March 17, GERB-UDF’s chief negotiator on a possible new government, Maria Gabriel, said that the group would return unfulfilled the mandate it was to receive on Monday to seek to form a new government.

If this comes to pass, it would mean that Bulgaria may be heading to “two-in-one” elections, simultaneously of members of the European Parliament, and of the National Assembly.

As the largest parliamentary group, GERB-UDF is entitled by the constitution to receive the first mandate to seek to form a government.

The current sequence of events follows the agreement in June 2023 between GERB-UDF and Parliament’s second-largest group, We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria, to vote into office a government on the basis of “rotation”.

This agreement on “rotation” was intended to see WCC-DB’s Nikolai Denkov initially take office as Prime Minister, with GERB-UDF’s Gabriel as Deputy PM, and after nine months, Gabriel become PM, with Denkov as Deputy PM.

However, since the start of 2024, there has been public wrangling between the two groups over what happens after the “rotation”. Nine months after taking office, Denkov tabled the resignation of his government, a move that was followed by the start of negotiations between GERB-UDF and WCC-DB.

These negotiations have covered the two coalitions’ different documents for the governance agreement and programme, and the personnel of a government, with several public exchanges of fire on the last-mentioned question. GERB-UDF has proposed a programme for a full-term government, lasting as long as the term of the current National Assembly, while WCC-DB has wanted only a nine-month horizon.

Speaking on Sunday night after some days of negotiations between the two coalitions, Gabriel said: “Even after the first round of negotiations, it became clear that with WCC-DB we have points in common, but also differences.

“Bulgaria needs stability, but it must be built on common principles and shared responsibility – a full term of office, clear priorities, equality in governance,” Gabriel said.

“We don’t have disputes about regulators, judicial reform, the fight against corruption. For us, the dispute is that the first political party (GERB-UDF) should be on an equal footing in governance,” she said.

“Today we proposed to vote on the composition of the current government only with a rotation of the prime minister and the deputy prime minister,” Gabriel said, going on to say that this had been rejected, and thus she would return the mandate unfulfilled.

A member of Gabriel’s negotiating team, Denitsa Sacheva, said: “If by 12pm, WCC-DB wants to share power, then we can talk. Otherwise, we return the mandate and there will be no government with two mandates”.

Sacheva was referring to the appointed time on March 18 for President Roumen Radev to hand the first mandate to GERB-UDF to seek to form a government.

It was not immediately clear if the statement by Sacheva, a GERB-UDF MP, was a sign that GERB-UDF was using the moment of melodrama – broadcast live on national television channels – to pressure WCC-DB to reach a deal before Gabriel’s Monday noon appointment with Radev. The live show by the GERB-UDF team was, in recent days, the first time that either side had spoken publicly about what was going on in the negotiations.

GERB-UDF leader Boiko Borissov said in recent days that March 18 would see either the fulfilment of the first mandate to seek to form a government, or Bulgaria going to early parliamentary elections. After the March 18 stage, there would be no further negotiations on a government, Borissov said. Similarly, Denkov has said that either matters would be resolved at the first-mandate stage, or there would be early parliamentary elections.

WCC-DB responded with a late-night briefing of their own, broadcast live on TV at 10pm.

DB co-leader Atanas Atanassov said: “I want to call on Borissov to intervene in this situation. I don’t understand why the negotiations stalled.”

Atanassov suggested that Gabriel should take her time over returning the mandate unfulfilled.

DB co-leader Hristo Ivanov said: “If it turns out that we cannot sign this agreement, it will be a very heavy sentence”.

Denkov said that “On Friday, the understanding stopped and GERB-UDF said ‘we are ready for the same Cabinet to remain, but now we cannot sign the agreement, but we will sign it sometime’. That’s what happened today”.

Ivanov said WCC-DB “have the will to continue the negotiations”.

“Morning is wiser than evening,” Atanassov said.

“Come on, let’s act cleverer tomorrow than today”.

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