Bulgaria is a small country with a large state administration which is unable to deal with more than one issue at the same time. Over the past six months, this was the Presidency of the Council of the EU, writes Krassen Nikolov.
While the authorities in Sofia were excited about whether Brussels would give a European perspective to the Western Balkans or if Eastern European drivers would be able to sleep peacefully in their trucks on West European parkings, reforms in Bulgaria were completely halted.
The reform in education ended with a slight increase in teachers’ salaries. There is no prospect of healthcare reform except for the minister to be replaced again. The complete disintegration in the police is something the ruling coalition has calmly accepted. The reform of justice demanded by the EU, the public and business is not even mentioned. The state energy holding has billions of euros of debt, but the government has decided to re-hash expensive old energy projects, so that they could use them as an argument in foreign policy relations with Russia, Turkey and the EU.
All social systems in the state have gone to autopilot in times when courage and leadership are more needed than ever. Bulgaria misses its last chance to resolve its domestic problems while its population continues to decline, is aging and losing its competence and culture. Thus it also loses its chances of prosperity.
The Presidency turned the agenda entirely to the exterior. After the wars in former Yugoslavia, Bulgarian society has become totally uninterested in international crises, and foreign affairs issues rarely managed to excite anyone in the country. The refugee crisis three years ago began to change this, and the majority of Bulgarians understood that their country was not isolated from the problems in the world. Nationalist parties have begun to gain enough votes to get access to power. The Bulgarian Presidency has put the final touches to this process thanks to one person – Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.
If our readers have not yet understood, Borissov has a very basic feature in the character – he is a cowardly politician who wants to look like a strong statesman. In short – Borissov does not like to risk, but wants the public to know that he has the last word on any problems. Because of this feature, Borissov’s ten-year evolution as Prime Minister has led him to create the image of the balancer. He began to build this image internally four years ago during his second government. Borissov then worked with an unpredictable political partner in power (the Reformist Block) and media tycoon Delyan Peevski, who was in opposition to the parliament, but his papers and business stories were on the side of the prime minister.
Borissov doesn’t like strikes, he does not like the tensions, he tries to smooth the conflicts where he finds the least resistance. At the same time he concentrates power in its hands and has become an unbeatable factor in any internal conflict. This has led to paralysis of all institutions in the executive that have been unable to make independent decisions because they have been taught to expect the prime minister’s instructions. Similar is the state of the Bulgarian Parliament, which has become a body that only legitimises the initiatives of the government.
It is in this context that Bulgaria took the Presidency. Borissov used it for his personal public relations. His aim was to become a balancer for relations in the region and, if possible, to show himself as a balancer at EU level, at least in the eyes of the Bulgarians. Thus the Bulgarian Presidency became a personal project.
In this respect, Borisov had two simple goals – one external and one internal. In the external context, he was trying to persuade Brussels that Bulgaria, ruled by him, not only doesn’t create problems but is involved in solving them. He tried to horse-trade this and obtain the lifting of the EU monitoring on the Bulgarian judicial system, Schengen membership, and now the membership of the euro area. And if possible, all this should be obtained without Bulgaria fulfilling the requirements for the rule of law and functioning state regulators. The internal aim of the presidency was to position Borissov in the eyes of the Bulgarians as the only and irrevocable guarantor of the country’s European membership and of the peace in the region. This is what Bulgarians like – calm all around.
The end of the presidency shows that Borissov to a certain succeeded in achieving his goals above all internally. However, the price is huge, because the neglect of the institutional crises inside the country sooner or later will explode into the hands of the ruling. And then, there will be a need for courage and leadership. This is precisely what Borissov has never been able to show.