Socialist-led government takes over in Bulgaria

Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski's minority cabinet has resigned.

Bulgaria's new Socialist-led government won a parliamentary vote of confidence yesterday (29 May), ending months of political impasse but lacking the broad backing that may be required to steer the economy and attract much needed investment.

The European Union's poorest member has been without a permanent administration since February, when street protests against low living standards and corruption toppled a government led by the centre-right GERB party.

The minority government received 119 votes in favor and 98 against. Backed by the Socialists and their ethnic Turkish DPS allies, it will be led by Plamen Oresharski, 53, a non-partisan former finance minister.

"Maybe we won't be able to become rich and prosperous, but our minimum task is for Bulgarians to have bigger hope and more confidence that we are on the right track at the end of our term," Oresharski told reporters.

The new finance minister, economist Petar Chobanov, 36, said avoiding risks to a currency peg to the euro will be his priority. Bulgaria operates in a currency board regime which prevents its central bank from setting interest rates, leaving fiscal policy as the main tool to influence the economy.

One in five Bulgarians still live under the poverty threshold, six years after EU entry. The population has an average monthly salary of just €400 and pensions half that, a fraction of EU's average.

To soothe public anger, the government will also have to work to improve incomes and hold electricity costs at bay or risk renewed demonstrations – no easy task while keeping a tight rein on spending.

Nationalist backing

The leader of the nationalist Attack party, Volen Siderov, provided the one vote needed to open the parliament session and elect the government. But he said his party would withdraw its silent support if it sees the new administration was not working for "the national interest".

After hours of political bickering, Boiko Borissov – the leader of the largest party GERB, which failed to secure enough support to form a cabinet – said having a government was better for Bulgaria than continued uncertainty.

The government's lack of broad support will make it hard to push reforms in inefficient labour, healthcare and education but analysts said it was unlikely to allow uncontrolled spending given lessons from the 2009 credit boom and bust.

Oresharski appointed another economist, Dragomir Stoynev, to overhaul the inefficient energy sector and keep electricity prices unchanged to avoid new protests over power bills, which eat up a large part of Bulgarian incomes in the winter.

When finance minister, Oresharski oversaw a period of dizzying economic boom and bust in a previous Socialist-led government in 2005-2009. He plans to attract more foreign investment to boost growth of about 1% expected this year.

Council President Herman van Rompuy congratulated Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski on the formation of the new government:

“I am confident that under his leadership the country will be ready to face the challenges ahead. The European institutions stand ready to continue to support and assist Bulgaria.

“I look forward to welcoming Prime Minister Oresharski at the next European Council in June. I am sure that he and his government will continue Bulgaria's role and contribution to our common European project.”

Commission President José Manuel Barroso sent the following message of congratulations to Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski:

“On behalf of the European Commission and myself, I have the pleasure to convey to you my warmest congratulations on the occasion of your nomination as Prime Minister of Bulgaria.

Your appointment comes at a crucial time for your country and the European Union as a whole. Your government has the opportunity to make a significant impact on the living standards of your citizens by pursuing economic and structural reforms.

I wish you every success as Prime Minister and I look forward to meeting with you soon.” 

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