Bulgarian president says his country can cope with domestic crises

Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev with Council President Herman Van Rompuy.

Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev said yesterday (6 March) in Brussels that his country had the resources to spend more on social programmes to address the country's political, social and economic crises.

Plevneliev argued that his country – whose prime minister resigned last month – had the internal budgetary resource to deal with unemployment and improve the social situation in general.

He called his country “an island of fiscal discipline”, with a deficit in 2012 of 0.5% and a planned deficit for 2013 at 1.3%.

“If you have a deficit like this, you could do some social policies and some employment policies … Within the budget, there is a smart option to do more for social policies,” he said.

Plevneliev’s visit coincided with a day of mourning at home for the death of Plamen Goranov, 36, who set himself on fire in front of the Varna city council to protest alleged abuse of power and the country's dire economy.

Varna Mayor Kiril Yordanov resigned yesterday.

Yordanov was the second highest politician from the ruling centre-right party GERB to quit in recent days. Prime Minister Boyko Borissov stepped down last month after a wave or protests over the price of electricity.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for 12 May. Plevneliev is expected to announce the formation of a caretaker government on 13 March.

Difficulty forming a government

Kristalina Georgieva, the European commissioner for humanitarian aid, had been tipped for the job, but declined, sources told EURACTIV. Among the other names circulating are Sasha Bezuhanova, a director for Hewlett-Packard in Central and Eastern Europe, and Konstantin Penchev, the country’s ombudsman.

Speaking to journalists in the aircraft before his arrival in Brussels, Plevneliev complained that all his proposals for caretaker prime ministers had been “met with fire”. He did not elaborate.

Plevneliev reportedly said that Bulgaria had reached the point when it should give up the “wild capitalism” if it wants to avoid “a revolution”.

Bulgaria has the lowest average salary in the EU: €387 a month. The average pension stands at €150, and the base pension is €76.

Plevneliev was also quoted as saying that he stands for “full liberalisation” of the Bulgarian energy market.

Bulgaria’s power distribution market is divided into three regions, controlled by Czech firms ?EZ and Energo-Pro and Austria's EVN [see map].

On 24 January, the European Commission referred Bulgaria to the European Court of Justice for failing to fully transpose the EU energy market rules.

After his meeting with Council President Herman Van Rompuy, Plevneliev said he realised his country was “in the spotlight” of EU institutions.

Speaking to journalists, he tried to downplay the political dimension of the crisis.

“There were such crisis in the past, there were caretaker governments in the past, we know how to deal with it and the President has a strong position,” he said.

Bulgaria has had caretaker governments in 1997 and 1994-95.

Plevneliev also met Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament. The German Social Democrat, who rejected the view that the German conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel was to be blamed for the policies of austerity that generate protests and bring down governments.

“Around the European Council table are Chancellor Merkel and 26 heads of state and government. Decisions are taken by unanimity. One cannot say that it’s just Chancellor Merkel. Prime Minister Borissov also participated and I remember that he vetoed some decisions of the European Council,” Schulz said.

On another matter, the president declined to comment on on the investigation of the Burgas bombing attack of 18 July and the preliminary findings reportedly pointing at the military wing of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Plevneliev attended celebrations in the European Parliament of the 70th anniversary of the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews, together with the President of Israel Shimon Peres. On the eve of the planned deportation of 48.000 Bulgarian Jews in April 1943, the Bulgarian Parliament, the Orthodox Church and civil society mobilised and prevented their departure for the death camps.

When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU on 1 January 2007, shortcomings remained regarding judicial reform and the fight against corruption. In the case of Bulgaria, problems also remained regarding the fight against organised crime.

A Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) was set up to assist both countries with judiciary matters after their EU accession. The last report on Bulgaria, published in July 2012, focuses on organised crime and the failings of the law-enforcement.

Bulgaria is also unique in terms of the high number of high-profile contract killings. Money laundering appears to be going high scale, in spite of adopted legislation. In recent years, a lot of luxurious villages and resorts popped up in the country’s most attractive areas, their real owners and the origin of their wealth remaining largely unknown. What's more, impunity appears to be widespread.

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