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BULGARIA


  
  

 

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Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 19,859 15,608 13,600 69
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 2,130 1,790 1,650 106
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 152 - (29/01/10)

If 2009 was marked by some quite important political events in Bulgaria, the coming 2010 promises to be even more interesting.

In addition to the economic and financial crisis that unfolded in the poorest EU member state in 2009, the Bulgarians also underwent an election upheaval. At the general election on July 5, the Bulgarians withdrew their confidence from the tripartite ruling coalition of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the National Movement for Stability and Progress and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and voted for the centre-right GERB political party, led by tough-talking former Sofia mayor, former bodyguard and former interior ministry chief secretary, Boyko Borissov.

The new strongman
The French newspaper Le Monde commented on the July-5 vote in Bulgaria: "After twenty years of hard transition, marked by mob rule and rampant corruption, the Bulgarians want a politician who will establish law and order in the country and they see this politician in the face of Mr. Borissov?.

“I am a man of methods. I am for direct communication with the people and I am not afraid of reforms,” the author quotes Mr. Borissov as saying.

A double whammy
According to Mr. Stefan Popov, executive director of Risk Monitor, two important things happened in Bulgaria in 2009, the first being the onset of the global economic crisis and the second the change of government following the general elections in July.

As to the crisis, never before has Bulgaria experienced a financial crisis in the Western sense of the term, so this is a useful experience for the Bulgarian people and especially for small businesses, he said.

"The people voted for GERB so as to get rid of the mafia,' said Ivan Kostov, one of the leaders of the Blue Coalition.

The conservative would-be in-laws are still outlaws
Yane Yanev's conservative party 'Order, Lawfulness, Justice, passed the three-percent threshold just barely and secured some ten seats in the 240-seat parliament. Yanev garnered support for his party on pledges to fight top-level corruption and work for transparency. At present, Yanev's parliamentary group does not exist after one of his MPs decided to leave it.

Also, the scandals involving Bulgaria’s state security agency encroaching upon the people’s rights and freedoms have faded away. This usually happens to all big political disclosures in Bulgaria.

Bulgaria’s ruling party, the Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (known by its Bulgarian abbreviation as GERB) has shed about seven per cent support in the past few months to a current 31 per cent, according to a survey by the ASSA-M agency.

GERB came to power after winning about 41 per cent of votes in Bulgaria’s July 2009 national parliamentary elections.

In its first months in power, opinion polls saw it soar in popularity, to the point that some analysts suggested that snap elections would see Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s party win an absolute majority in Parliament.

But ASSA-M’s Mihail Mirchev said that GERB now had 31 per cent, meaning about 300,000 to 400,000 supporters no longer stood with the party.

However, those votes did not seem to have gone elsewhere.

Support for other parties was unchanged. Sergei Stanishev’s Bulgarian Socialist Party, formerly the majority party in the governing coalition voted out of power in 2009, had 11 per cent.

The Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the party led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity and which served in the two previous governing coalitions, had five per cent – as did its bête noire, Volen Siderov’s ultra-nationalist party Ataka.

The centre-right Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria had 2.8 per cent and Yane Yanev’s Order Lawfulness and Justice party – which recently withdrew its support from Borissov’s Government after a political row – had 1.6 per cent.

The centre-right Union of Democratic Forces, which is in coalition with the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria has 1.5 per cent, and the National Movement for Stability and Progress, formed around former monarch Simeon Saxe-Coburg but now led by former cabinet minister Hristina Hristova, had 0.4 per cent.

Speaking on December 22 2009, Borissov said that in two months, his Government had managed to achieve more than its predecessors had in four years.

He said that GERB - which governs single-handedly, having decided against a coalition – would make Bulgaria look completely different in four years, should it manage to complete its term in office.

For the Borissov Government, there have been a number of successes, including the unblocking of European Union funds and a recent high-profile operation in which alleged members of a kidnapping gang were arrested.

Controversies that have attended the Government recently included a decision by Borissov to endorse a campaign by Ataka to hold a national referendum on whether daily special news bulletins in Turkish on public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television should continue. In the face of widespread negative reaction to the move, Borissov backed down.

The Government also has had to grapple with the continuing economic crisis in Bulgaria which, among other effects, has severely constrained the Government’s capacity to spend.

It has become clear to what extent the crisis has affected Bulgaria. On December 16, Bulgarian National Bank figures showed that foreign direct investment in the country from January to October 2009 was 2.3 billion euro, substantially down from the equivalent period of 2008, when it added up to 5.8 billion euro.

In October 2009, FDI was only 11.4 million euro, no more than two per cent of FDI in Bulgaria in October 2008.

Up against the Insolents
A single episode can light up an entire landscape - in this case of police complicity with crime and corruption in Bulgaria, the prevalence of which is hindering its integration into EU structures, three years after formal membership.

According to Bulgarian media, four policemen were thought to have backed the organised crime gang ‘The Insolents’, suspected of a series of high profile kidnappings in Bulgaria in recent years. As if describing a movie scene, BGNes said policemen and the kidnappers allegedly met in quiet cafes where they hatched plans to trap the next victim. Reportedly, policemen also provided gang members with information about police radio stations, so the gang could silence police radios. They also taught them how to erase their tracks, BGNes said.

In the kidnappings of Angel Bonchev and Kiro Kirov, police radios were blocked when the ransom in question was being paid. In the case of Bonchev's kidnapping, this was also the moment Bonchev's wife was kidnapped by the gang, BGNes said.

Reports in Bulgarian media come at the end of 2009 after Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov admitted, at an AmCham business luncheon, that high profile organised crime gangs in the country, including ‘The Insolents’, had received help from within the Interior Ministry. Mobile phone records from the policemen involved revealed the men had spoken repeatedly with leaders of the criminal group, BGNes said.

Police were currently preparing an operation called The Insolents 3, designed to close down the gang's operations for good.

Tracking the Crocodiles
The second high-profile organised crime group, whose members have recently been arrested and cited by Borissov as being aided and abetted from within the Interior Ministry, was the gang known as ‘the Crocodiles’. Among those who had helped the Crocodiles were not just road police, but also high ranking officials who had provided gang members with police identities used in the armed robberies, BGNes said.

The Internal Security department at the Interior Ministry was said to have evidence that police officers had been involved with the gang from its inception.

According to Bulgarian daily Standart, the Interior Ministry was in no hurry to make arrests because it wanted to secure sufficient evidence to bring the suspected corrupt policemen to court.

Bulgaria drops candidate for Brussels post
The EU's Lisbon Treaty came into effect in December, boosting the powers of the European Parliament vis–a-vis Brussels and the European Commission. The assembly is flexing its muscles by refusing to accept all the 26 candidates to be commissioners, who have been under interrogation since January 11.

The first scalp, as it so happens, is that of Rumiana Jeleva, foreign minister in Bulgaria's centre-right government, who was being proposed to be humanitarian aid and crisis response commissioner.

She was subjected to sharp criticism from the leftwingers, centrists and greens, who abound in the assembly.

She is unfortunate in her country of origin here. Bulgaria has become a by-word for graft and the invidious implications thereof. Her job would have certainly involved being in charge of administering massive disbursements of aid funds, notoriously inclined to go astray.

It is no reflection on her personally. If anyone takes the rap it is European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, who proposed her as a member of his team. She is a symbolic victim of the assertion of the assembly's new powers.


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