Following the early parliamentary elections on 26 March Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov was only able to cobble a government with the nationalists, called officially “United Patriots”.
This was not a surprise. In his previous parliament the nationalists voted with Borissov’s GERB party, although no coalition agreement existed. This time around their support was more precious and they obtained legitimacy as a ruling force and important posts in the cabinet.
The United Patriots consist of three distinct parties – Volen Siderov’s Ataka, the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria of Valeri Simeonov, and VMRO, a political party who claims to be the successor to the historic Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization. VMRO is led by Krassimir Karakachanov.
Borissov had no chance of forming another coalition, after the leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party Kornelia Ninova strongly rejected any suggestions of a grand coalition, even though the idea of putting in place a grand coalition was floated, at least for the duration of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU.
In the last two years, Siderov considerably toned down his extremist rhetoric. However he is the only one who was not given a ministerial post. Simeonov became deputy Prime Minister for economic and demographic policy, while Karakachanov obtained the more important job of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence.
Bulgarian ministers are expected to chair the different formats of the ministerial Council meetings. But there is no chance that Simeonov would chair such a Council, and it is unlikely that Karakachanov would preside over a foreign affairs council meeting, even with common EU defence policy on the agenda. The foreign minister will handle that.
Simeonov has made series of blunders and opinion polls says 56% believe he should step down. He should certainly regret his heavy-handedness and bad language, but the controversies were not related to his nationalist agenda.
Despite some alarmist comments from Western pundits, the risks that the Bulgarian Presidency could be handicapped from the presence of nationalists in its government look slim.
Whatever their nationalist agendas may be, the “United Patriots” did not create tensions since the cabinet was sworn on 4 May. Do they have plans to change tactics during the Presidency? Probably not.
The EU has to worry more with the next Presidency. Austria takes over from Bulgaria on 1 July 2018. If the centre-right People’s Party (ÖVP) will form a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), then the EU will have a real problem.