Bulgaria’s outgoing government lists what it sees as its achievements

Bulgaria’s outgoing Nikolai Denkov government published a list on April 4 of what it sees as its achievements in office.

It said that in its last month in office, the elected Cabinet mobilised every effort “to advance the most important decisions for the benefit of people and the private sector, so that the transition to a caretaker governmen is smooth and the state does not stop working, regardless of the complicated political situation”.

This is its statement:

“The economic growth of Bulgaria continues

The Bulgarian economy is growing against the backdrop of the contraction in Europe – by 1.8 per cent for the whole of 2023, according to National Statistical Institute data.

While the economy of the entire EU slowed in the fourth quarter of 2023 compared to the previous three months (according to Eurostat data), the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Bulgaria increased by 0.5 per cent, and by this indicator we are in the top eight in the European Union in terms of growth for the period. In the past three years, GDP per capita grew by 10 per cent – three times faster than the period before that.

In February, inflation in Bulgaria continued to decrease and slowed to 3.3 per cent, and the monthly rate was 0.3 per cent (NSI). Food prices have stabilized, according to the latest data from the State Commission on Commodity Exchanges and Markets.

The real purchasing power of Bulgarians compared to the European average has increased by 11 per cent over the past three years and is already higher than that of Hungary.

By comparison, in the 11 years from 2009 to 2020, it grew by only one per cent per year.

The average salary at the end of 2023 reached 2123 leva, an increase of by 13 per cent compared with 2022. And the average salary for the last three-year period increased by 53 per cent compared to 2020.

In 2023, pensions were updated by 12 per cent, this year there will be an increase again by 11 per cent.

The minimum and average pensions have increased by over 130 per cent with the last budgets. In comparison, the average pension for the period 2009 – 2020 had grown by only 33 per cent.

Bulgaria is officially a full member of Schengen by air and sea

At exactly midnight on March 31, Bulgaria became part of the Schengen area by air and sea after 12 years of negotiations and accelerated work of the government and the National Assembly in the first six months of the Denkov-Gabriel cabinet.

From the early hours of March 31, border controls at airports and ports for travellers from and to Schengen countries were abolished.

With this full membership, we can now fully implement the Schengen legislation and have access to the tools and information systems of the zone, participate in all formats and negotiations.

In the event of political stabilisation, a decision is expected for the overland Schengen by the end of the year.

Another step towards solving the problem of shortage of personnel for business

The government adopted the order for putting into operation the Automated Information System for issuing the so-called Blue Card.

This system will digitise the processes related to the issuance of residence and work permits to foreigners in Bulgaria and will reduce the administrative burden for all participants. This is the way to solve the problem of staff shortages, which almost all businesses in Bulgaria have.

Decisive steps to restore justice continued

The Ministry of Justice published for public discussion the new draft of the Judiciary Act, which started the official procedure before its submission to the Cabinet for discussion.

As a continuation of the constitutional amendments, which introduce significant changes in the management and functioning of the judiciary, the new Judiciary Act has an important meaning not only for the bodies of the judiciary and magistrates, but also for the whole society.

The proposed changes, which implement specific recommendations from the opinions of the Venice Commission and the EC Rule of Law Report, envisage strengthening the role and self-governance of the court, introducing a requirement of party neutrality for members of the highest bodies of the judiciary, reducing the powers of the Prosecutor-General to the administrative head of the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office, regulation of clear and transparent procedures for competitions, career development and secondment of magistrates.

Probation services will now implement an updated tool to assess offenders’ risk of recidivism and harm. The new system was designed and implemented in an electronic platform of the Ministry of Justice, so as to facilitate the work of the teams. For this purpose, nearly 300 experts have been trained – service managers and psychologists who can handle the updated tool and its software version. 

Old leaks back into the treasury

More than 3.2 million leva has already entered the account of the state company Montazhi, part of the State Consolidation Company. With it, the total amount reimbursed to the treasury thanks to the Ministry of Economy and Industry adds up to 48 million leva.

The agreement between Montazhi and the subcontractor Planex – HPP also provides for a second payment in the amount of nine million leva, which to be transferred no later than May 31 this year.

We remind you that at the end of 2019, a contract was concluded between Montazhi and Planex – HPP” for the construction of a government complex, which subsequently was not implemented.

The project was commissioned for implementation without a public procurement and without financial justification, as Montazhi paid nearly 80 million leva in advance.

Healthcare with people in mind

With the decision of the cabinet and with the cooperation of the National Health Insurance Fund, patients now have the opportunity to receive medicine with the lowest price from each of the 50 groups of medicines for cardiovascular diseases free of charge.

The rest of the medicines from these groups will be paid to varying degrees, but significantly less than before. The total number of medicines on the list exceeds 400. 

The Cabinet also proposed important changes to the Medical Facilities Act, which would introduce a ban on the opening of new hospitals until the approval of the new National Health Map.

The map provides accurate information on hospital care needs in different regions of the country.

The new National Health Map, which should be finalised within two months, should replace the old one, prepared six years ago. The purpose of the decision is to provide hospital care where it is needed, according to the needs of people in places in the country. 

Meanwhile, the activity of Bulgarian pharmacies in the Drug Verification System has increased by more than 50 per cent in the last year, reaching the average European levels of around 81 per cent.

This is indicated by the data from the latest European monitoring report.

This means that significant progress has been made in preventing re-exports to other countries and in ensuring that any medicine that reaches citizens in this order is original.

The cabinet also allocated 15 million leva from the budget of the Ministry of Health for the screening of diseases related to children’s health and women’s reproductive health – neonatal screening and screening of malignant neoplasms of the cervix.

Significant progress on major infrastructure projects at national and regional level

After lengthy negotiations, the government received the green light from the EC for the design and construction of the eastern lane of the Struma Motorway outside the Kresna Gorge.

The newly constructed 13.6km section between Makresh and Bela of the future Vidin-Botevgrad highway was opened for traffic.

The Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works signed 642 agreements with 162 municipalities for the design, construction, overhaul and reconstruction of municipal facilities. They have a total value of 1.734 billion leva and will be implemented and paid in tranches by the end of 2026.

Transport services for citizens at the European level

Bulgaria Heli Med Service EAD already has an aviation operator’s certificate for carrying out operations for emergency medical assistance by air – HEMS.

The company has already taken steps to build its own pilot training organization and expects to acquire two training helicopters and begin recruiting candidates by the autumn.

The main goal is for the operator to start independently training and training the personnel, which will provide security and stability in the development of the project.

The Cabinet allocated nearly 32 million leva from the central budget under the contract with Deutsche Bahn for the 76 modernised passenger carriages of BDZ.

They meet all European standards – open space, no compartments, have a restaurant car, a place for the disabled, a place for bicycles, modern vacuum toilets and air conditioning, a place to charge phones and laptops.

By replacing the rolling stock, the state will provide a much more comfortable and safe journey, with a predictable schedule without delays. 

A social policy with a vision of promoting early childhood development and improving maternal and child health

The government adopted the Annual Plan for the Promotion of Early Childhood Development for 2024, developed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health.

It is the first national document focused entirely on promoting early childhood development.

Its measures are divided into five areas of impact: health and nutrition; early learning, education and early childhood care; child protection, safety and security; social protection and parenting support and early childhood intervention.

Activities to support families are also planned in order to prevent the abandonment of children; ensuring effective social protection for families with young children to reduce child poverty and social exclusion; introduction of a national screening program to track the health and development of each child; introduction of an early childhood intervention system and others.

The Cabinet also adopted an Action Plan for the period 2024-2026 for the implementation of the National Programme for the Improvement of Maternal and Child Health 2021-2030.

The birth of healthy and full-fledged children is closely related to the health of women, their reproductive behaviour and the security of motherhood, and the care of children from the moment of their conception lays the foundations of human health and shapes the health behavior of each individual. They are an investment in future generations and in the prosperity of the country. 

Improving the quality of services for people

The Strategy for the development of human resources in the social sphere (2024-2030) was approved, aimed at improving the working conditions of over 49 000 people engaged in the sector.

The strategy aims to achieve growth in demand for professions and optimisation of labour supply in the social sphere. The strategy places an emphasis on the quality preparation and training of social workers. Another priority is improving the working conditions of specialists, motivation and building a professional community.

The Agency for People with Disabilities will finance projects with a social and economic orientation, which create conditions for stimulating the employment of people with permanent disabilities in a specialized work environment. The total budget of the programme is 1.5 million leva, of which 900 000 leva is for specialised enterprises with an economic focus, and 600 000 leva for those with a social focus. 

Overcoming unfair disparities in civil servants’ salaries

An important step to overcome the disparities accumulated over the years in the basic salaries of the employees in the state administration was taken by a decree of the Cabinet.

Such a targeted and coordinated initiative is being made for the first time and is in compliance with the State Budget Act 2024, in which 268 850 000 leva has been earmarked for the purpose.

The decree proposes a mechanism with a horizontal approach, which will positively affect the incomes of more than 53 000 employees in 304 administrative structures at the central and territorial level, with the emphasis being placed on the lowest salaries in the state administration, especially for employees on employment contracts.

Support for the Orthodox communities in London, Stuttgart and Sofia

The government allocated 3.5 million leva for the completion of the St. Stephen the Deacon, Protomartyr church in the South Park in Sofia.

The decision fully satisfies and even exceeds the amount requested by the Holy Metropolitanate of Sofia at the request of the blessed late Bulgarian Patriarch and Metropolitan of Sofia Neofit.

This decision continues the Cabinet’s policy of supporting religious denominations.

A historic moment for the Bulgarian community abroad was the acquisition of the church Saints Cyril and Methodius church in Stuttgart.

This happened after, in September 2023, the Cabinet allocated another half a million leva, with which the total support from the state exceeded 1.2 million leva.

For the reconstruction and expansion of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church St. Ivan Rilski in London, the government allocated 800 000 leva.

In 2023, the government also supported the renovation of the Sofia Theological Seminary St. Ivan Rilski with 1.3 million leva.

In Budget 2024, the state subsidy for religious denominations registered under the Religious Denominations Act increased by more than 8.8 million leva compared with 2023, reaching 48.7 million leva.

Support for farmers

A total of 46 334 small and medium-sized farmers received 154 million leva from the State Fund for Agriculture under the scheme for redistributive support for Campaign 2023 – at a rate of 218.34 leva a hectare.

This is 50 per cent more compared with Campaign 2022, when farmers were paid 140.81 leva a hectare.

The increase in the intervention budget was recorded in the Strategic Plan for the Development of Agriculture and Rural Areas for the period 2023-2027.

The so-called redistributive support is tied to the Basic Income Support for Sustainability scheme, which subsidizes all areas eligible for financing, applied for by farmers.

According to this basic scheme, in December last year, the State Fund for Agriculture paid farmers more than 550 million leva.

Measures to increase road safety continue

The Cabinet approved a draft Law amending and supplementing the Road Traffic Act.

The document envisages measures, the main objective of which is to increase safety and lay the foundations for a trend towards a permanent reduction in the number of victims of traffic accidents.

In this regard, the focus is placed on increasing the preventive effect, improving the effectiveness of the control activity, as well as limiting the sense of impunity among offenders.

Access to Bulgarian education and higher quality of scientific activity

The Ministry of Education and Science will finance with 153 000 leva five nine-month scholarships for young Bulgarian scientists and two three-month scholarships for scientists from the Bulgarian diaspora in the field of humanities and social sciences in 2024.

This became possible after a change in the Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Bulgaria and the State Secretariat for Research and Innovation in Education of the Swiss Confederation, approved by the government.

From the beginning of the program in 2019 until January 2024, a total of 125 individual projects were submitted, of which 33 successfully passed international selection and were financed under the program.

The University of Rousse Angel Kanchev will have its structure in the city of Taraklia. This is provided for in the Agreement between the governments of Bulgaria and Moldova.

Thus, for the first time, a division of a Bulgarian higher education institution will be created among the historical Bulgarian community abroad.

A significant number of Moldovan citizens of Bulgarian origin from the Tarakli district and ATO Gagauzia will be given the opportunity for immediate access to Bulgarian higher education.

The Bulgarian institute INSAIT made a historic breakthrough with 16 articles at the CVPR conference – the most cited forum for artificial intelligence and computer vision in the world.

This success is unprecedented for our country in this field and ranks us in the top 10 in Europe.

Bulgaria has a total of more articles than all the countries in Eastern Europe combined. INSAIT is also ahead of every single university from countries such as Israel, Netherlands, Finland, Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Italy and others.

Two hundred schools have elected principals after the competitions held under the new rules of the Ministry of Education and Science. This is shown by the aggregated data from all regional administrations of education in the country.

For the first time, the election of directors of educational institutions was conducted according to rules aimed at finding not only administrators, but also leaders who would contribute to the change in Bulgarian education.

With a new national program of the Ministry of Education and Science, 10 million leva will be invested in the modernisation of university libraries. The program provides an opportunity to provide modern equipment, to build new spaces, as well as to improve the existing material and technical base. 

An additional 49 million leva to increase the remuneration of scientists from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (BAS) and state universities has been approved by the government. From the total amount, 10 million leva is earmarked for BAS, and 39 million leva for state higher education institutions.

The reform for financial stability and preparation of the Bulgarian energy industry for the future continues

By decision of the Cabinet on the budget of the Ministry of Energy, 1.6 billion leva additional funds will be transferred to the Security of the Electricity System Fund and to guarantee the financial stability of the companies under the umbrella of the Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH).

The Ministry of Energy has announced two procedures for the selection of proposals to support new capacities for the production of electricity from renewable sources and storage of electricity under the National Recovery and Sustainability Plan.

The main objective of the investment is to contribute to increasing the share of clean energy in Bulgaria’s energy mix on the way to climate neutrality – by supporting the construction and integration into the electricity grid of new 1425MW power generation capacities from renewable sources, together with 350MW of electrical energy storage facilities.

Strategic vision for digital transformation of Bulgaria

The Cabinet adopted an updated National Strategic Document “Digital Transformation of Bulgaria for the period 2024 – 2030” and the attached Analysis of the State of Digital Transformation and National Roadmap for Digital Transformation until 2030. The documents reflect the strategic vision and goals of the country for digital transformation and contain Bulgaria’s priorities for the period up to 2030. 

Bulgaria is among the safest and preferred destinations by German tourists

Bulgaria is among the most frequently booked destinations by German tourists, and in the ranking of the local publication DRV Travel Trends 2024, Bulgaria ranks ahead of the United Arab Emirates and the Maldives.

Thanks to the implemented reform and the advertising programme of the Black Sea municipalities, tour operators in Germany have recorded a 20 per cent increase in early bookings for the upcoming summer season. 

After changes in the Ordinance on water rescue activities and the safety of water areas and pools for public use, water rescuers will be trained by other institutions besides the Bulgarian Red Cross. The requirement is to be able to provide water rescue specialists and doctors with a recognized specialty in Anesthesiology and Intensive Care or Emergency Medicine. 

Care for Bulgaria’s rivers and protection for people

The Ministry of Environment and Waters and the basin directorates published for public discussion the drafts of the updated River Basin Management Plans (RBMP) until 2027.

The plan is a strategic document aimed at achieving and maintaining good water condition while ensuring sustainable socio-economic development. The measures planned in the RBMP define the basic framework for the use and protection of water in the planning period.

Bulgaria will host the 61st session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in July 2024.

The meeting of the most influential international scientific organization in the field of climate change is expected to bring together hundreds of scientists and government delegates who will discuss key topics related to the process of securing scientific input on the basis of which countries make decisions on the planning and implementation of climate policies. 

A more accessible sport for all

The Ministry of Youth and Sports provided two million leva more for student sports in 2024, or a total funding of more than three million leva.

The planned measures aim to encourage children from kindergartens, students of all educational levels, students and children at risk to physical activity and practice sports as a means of a healthy lifestyle and to provide opportunities for choice and access to sports activities and appearances.

The Ministry of Youth and Sports fulfilled its commitment and successfully implemented the sports infrastructure program. Nearly 10 million leva has already been allocated for over 20 sites, including for the repair of 3 stadiums in the country, for athletics tracks, for the construction of sports fields, playgrounds, an indoor tennis court, an amusement park and two multi-purpose sports halls.

In this context, a transparent procedure for applying for funding under the program was announced until November 30 2023. The evaluation methodology was based on criteria such as the number of children playing sports, the number of schools, universities and sports clubs in the respective region, with the aim of efficient and appropriate spending of the designated public resource. 

The ministry recovered nearly 10 million leva for 100 per cent of the 22 million leva paid in advance in 2020 for the construction of 24 gyms, of which only two were built.

The amount was recovered as a result of voluntary refunds by the companies and court settlements. For the remaining amount, the ministry continues to conduct court cases, which as of April 1 2024 are 11 in number.

In 2020 the Cabinet provided the ministry with nearly 25 million leva for the construction and equipment of gymnasiums in schools. After hastily awarded public contracts, as a result of which contracts were concluded in violation of all the rules of good financial management, nearly 22 million leva was granted as 100 per cent advances to contractor companies.

Modern, effective and adequate care for culture

The Cabinet approved a bill to amend and supplement the Cultural Heritage Act, which aims to achieve a more modern, effective and adequate regulation of the regimes and activities related to the preservation of immovable cultural heritage.

Until now, the current law has failed to provide the necessary protection to a large number of cultural assets, and in response the state has rethought its policy to preserve this key part of our national security and identity. 

The financing of cultural institutes and community centres is increased by a total of 23.1 million leva.

The main standards for financing the state museums, art galleries and the National Library Saints Cyril and Methodius, as well as the standards for municipal museums, art galleries and libraries of a regional nature, are increased by 18.2 per cent.

For community centres, the standard has been increased by a new additional 1.2 per cent, and so with the changes made, the total increase of the standard for community centres for 2024 compared to 2023 reaches 21.6 per cent.”

The Sofia Globe staff

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