Books on Bulgaria
Update No: 132 - (01/06/08)
The EU insists on changes
There is concern in Sofia, as in Brussels, that not enough is being done to
combat crime and corruption. The latter always puts in an appearance at the
interface between public monies, such as EU funds, and their particular
disbursement by individuals, which is what ministers and bureaucrats after all
are. Several of them are 'helping the police with their enquiries.'
The problem has certainly been aggravated by EU adhesion last year, as in
Romania. It might have been wiser to cleanse the Augean Stables before that
event was agreed, not afterwards. Still that is now too late to arrange.
It is not too late, nevertheless, to withhold funds, which Brussels is now
threatening to do. Sofia needs to put its house in order.
A crucial cabinet reshuffle
There is a year to go before Bulgaria must have parliamentary elections,
although there are voices calling for them to be brought forward. However, the
three ruling parties have decided on a timely reshuffle ahead of the electoral
campaign, to address the very issue of disbursing EU finance.
While sticking to the proportions in the 2005 coalition Cabinet agreement, the
ruling parties have changed some of the faces. The agreement gives the Bulgarian
Socialist Party (BSP) eight Cabinet ministers, the National Movement for
Stability and Progress (NMSP) five and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF)
The ruling parties decided on April 22 to replace a total of four ministers. The
BSP replaced Interior Minister Roumen Petkov with Mihail Mikov, the BSP’s
floor leader in Parliament, and Health Minister Radoslav Gaidarski with former
Stara Zagora mayor Evgenii Zhelev. The NMSP replaced Defence Minister Vesselin
Bliznakov with the relatively unknown Nikolai Tsonev, head of the Ministry’s
Social Activities Agency. The MRF replaced Agriculture Minister Nihat Kabil with
a little-known professor of agricultural studies, Valeri Tsvetanov.
Keeping the trend of the past seven years, no explanation was given for the
replacement of the four ministers. While Interior Minister Petkov resigned on
April 13, following his admission that he had held meetings with people under
police investigation, the other three ministers said nothing about why their
party leaders wanted to replace them.
The crunch cometh - a new watchdog
The Cabinet reshuffles requested by Prime Minister and BSP leader Sergei
Stanishev on April 11, led to only one structural change, but this a very
significant one. The ruling parties decided to create a new Cabinet post, that
of deputy prime minister without portfolio, who will supervise and control the
spending of European Union funds. The current ambassador to Germany, Meglena
Plougchieva, a former member of the BSP, will occupy this post.
A woman diplomat with an impeccable record, she is a wise choice. Women are
notably less corrupt in the Balkans, as in Russia, although Milosevic's wife is
a reminder that there are exceptions here.
The post of deputy prime minister without portfolio was suggested by Stanishev
as a response to the European Commission’s criticism that Bulgaria lacked
transparency in its spending of EU funds.
The changes were applauded by President Georgi Purvanov, who described
Plougchieva’s appointment as “a great choice”. Speaking to reporters on
April 23, Purvanov said that Plougchieva needed Stanishev’s full support to
succeed because “according to the constitution a deputy prime minister does
not have the right to act as a supervisor of cabinet ministers”.
Speaking to Bulgarian National Television on April 22, Alexander Bozhkov,
co-chairperson of the Institute for Economic Development and former deputy prime
minister, said that Plougchieva had the qualities for the position but that her
role would simply be the Government’s “mailbox” to the EC.
European Commission spokesman Mark Gray said that appointments and resignations
were internal issues for Bulgaria. Nevertheless, the EC was appraising the
Lukewarm domestic reception
Most Bulgarian media described the changes as cosmetic, particularly in the
light of Stanishev’s statements over the past fortnight that the Government
could not rule out the possibility of early elections.
Staishev made this statement on April 11 when the Cabinet survived a no
confidence motion in Parliament on the grounds of the Government’s alleged
ties with organised crime. The NMSP abstained from voting, a decision that
triggered stern reactions from Stanishev, Purvanov and the BSP. The media was
even moved to suggest that Stanishev would “punish” the NMSP by limiting its
representation in the Cabinet.
“You have seen that talk of the NMSP leaving the coalition was just a facade
and nothing like this has happened,” Sofia mayor Boiko Borissov told reporters
on April 23. He joined other opposition leaders in calling for early elections.