Borissov appoints nationalist deputies to his third cabinet

The three leaders of 'United Patriots' From left to right: Volen Siderov, leader of Ataka, Krassimir Karakachanov, leader of VMRO, and Valeri Simeonov, leader of the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria. Karakachanov and Simeonov will be deputy premiers. [Bulgarian National Radio]

The winner of Bulgaria’s parliamentary election, the centre-right GERB party, named ministers yesterday (3 May) to a coalition government that will see its leader, Boyko Borissov, return as prime minister for the third time since 2009. The legislature is expected to approve it today.

The pro-market and pro-EU GERB, which won a snap election in March but failed to secure an outright majority, has teamed up with United Patriots, an alliance of three nationalist parties, for a four-year term in office.

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Bulgarian ultra-nationalists look set to enter government for the first time after a new pro-Russian “patriotic” alliance agreed a coalition with former premier Boyko Borissov’s party following elections on 26 March.

From GERB’s side, Tomislav Donchev will be in charge of European funding while Ekaterina Zaharieva, the justice minister in Borissov’s previous government, will be foreign minister and a vice premier responsible for reforming the judiciary.

Zaharieva is also known as one of Borissov’s astrologers.

Upon astrologer's advice, Borissov to unveil cabinet on 4 May

Bulgaria’s Boyko Borissov is bound to be Prime Minister for a third time. In recent months he has confessed to following the advice of astrologers, who advised him not to unveil the new government before 4 May.

The new government, which is expected to win a vote of confidence in parliament on Thursday, will respect Sofia’s commitments to the European Union and NATO and will work to boost incomes in the EU’s poorest member state.

One of its key challenges will be to make a success of its six-month presidency of the European Council from January next year when the bloc will be enmeshed in debates about its future and negotiating the terms of Britain’s exit.

Borissov recommended his former construction minister, Lilyana Pavlova, as minister of the Bulgarian presidency. Bulgaria will take over the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU on 1 January 2018.

The United Patriots, which used strongly anti-migrant and anti-Turkish rhetoric during the election campaign, has significantly toned down its language in a move expected to ease concerns in the EU, which is facing a surge in support for right-wing populism.

At home, analysts expect the new government to maintain political and fiscal stability, but have expressed doubts that it will push ahead with meaningful reforms to tackle corruption and overhaul Bulgaria’s judiciary.

GERB and the United Patriots have agreed to raise the minimum state pension, committed to boosting economic growth, to double teachers’ salaries and to increase the average monthly wage by 50% during the four-year parliament.

The coalition, which has only a one-seat majority in parliament but is also supported by the populist Will party, is expected to maintain income and corporate taxes, among the lowest in the EU, unchanged at 10%, and to keep the lev currency pegged to the euro until Bulgaria joins the eurozone.

Bulgaria has yet to nominate a Commissioner. The post has been vacant since Kristalina Georgieva resigned to take a job at the World Bank on 1 January.