Bulgaria slashes state subsidy, allows unlimited donations for political parties

A woman passes in front of election poster supporting former Prime minister Boyko Borissov and Bulgarian party 'GERB' with a slogan 'Real Solutions for Bulgaria' in Sofia, Bulgaria, 19 March 2017. [Vassil Donev/EPA/EFE]

Bulgaria’s parliament removed all limits for individual and corporate donations for political parties Thursday (4 July), a move which many fear could worsen the country’s already endemic corruption.

The controversial changes initiated by Prime Minister’s Boyko Borissov’s GERB party are scheduled to come into force over the summer after they were approved by the conservative-dominated legislature.

The new measures have their origin in a row over state subsidies for political parties.

A popular television talk show recently revealed that financial miscalculations had led to parties receiving over 13 leva (€6.5 euros) per vote in state subsidy for the first half of 2019, instead of the 11 leva they were legally entitled to.

The revelations sparked outrage in Bulgaria — the EU’s poorest country — and forced political parties to return over 14 million leva to state coffers.

In response to the outcry, the government put forward a proposal to slash the subsidy to just 1 lev (€0.5) per vote.

However, in order to compensate for this, the measures approved on Thursday also included lifting the current ban on parties receiving donations from private companies as well as abolishing a 10,000-leva ceiling on annual donations from individuals.

Transparency International’s Bulgaria branch and a group of several other similar organisations warned last month that cutting state subsidies would deal a heavy blow to political pluralism as smaller parties would lose their only source of funding.

Analysts have also warned that unlimited donations from companies and private citizens could lead to an unhealthy merging of political and business interests and increase potential corruption.

The opposition Socialists, for whom the changes will mean a dramatic fall in funding ahead of local elections in the autumn, also slammed the move as “legalised political racketeering”.

Bulgaria, which joined the European Union in 2007, remains one of the bloc’s most corruption-prone members and is still subject to a special monitoring mechanism for its persistent failure to cut graft and improve its slow judiciary.

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