Policy Performance


Economic Policies

Despite stabilizing macroeconomic conditions, Bulgaria receives comparatively low scores in international comparison (rank 34) with respect to economic policies. After a notable decline last year, its score this year has recovered, now representing a 0.1 point gain relative to 2014.

After a period of over-optimistic spending, the government has brought deficits under control. Unemployment rates have been decreasing moderately but steadily. Labor-market flexibility has increased, and unemployed people are being provided with new training.

The tax system is heavily VAT-based. Rising receipts have stabilized public finances. Corporate taxes and the flat income tax are very low, but red tape is excessive.

Spending growth has been contained. Debt is low by EU standards. A new independent Fiscal Council will help review budget, tax and fiscal legislation. R&D spending is minimal, relying largely on EU funds. A recent bank failure was contained, but exposed supervisory weaknesses.

Social Policies

With significant gaps in its safety net, Bulgaria falls into the bottom ranks internationally (rank 40) in the area of social policies. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

Education quality is comparatively low, with significant geographical variance. Income inequality is high and social exclusion substantial. The system has difficulties integrating minorities, foreigners and people with sub-secondary-level education.

The health care system is inclusive, but service quality is not high. Those who make private payments to doctors receive faster, better care. Public provision of child care is limited, though family support networks and strong parental-leave laws allow women to work in relatively significant numbers.

Retirement-age increases have been restored, but the public pension system’s sustainability remains questionable. There is no comprehensive integration policy, and xenophobia is widespread, producing unfavorable conditions for migrants.

Environmental Policies

Focused still on addressing socialist-era damage, Bulgaria falls into the upper-middle ranks internationally (rank 16) with regard to environmental policies. After a marginal decline last year, its score in this area has recovered to its 2014 level.

While the reduction of inherited pollution has been a priority for two decades, current CO2 emissions are relatively moderate. Climate policy has focused on subsidies for renewable-energy sources, increasing use substantially but ultimately distorting prices. Subsides have now been reduced, which may slow adoption.

The country lacks a coherent water-resources strategy. Forest and biodiversity protection are strengths. Conservation-focused groups are more influential than many other civil-society associations, although business interests continue to violate environmental policies, particularly in the mining and tourism sectors.

Bulgaria does not actively promote collective action on environmental issues, though it follows existing regimes.



Quality of Democracy

With a number of weak spots, Bulgaria scores comparatively poorly overall (rank 35) with regard to democracy quality. Its score on this measure is unchanged relative to 2014.

A new voting system enables reordering of party lists to reflect candidate preferences. While increasing choice, it has also prompted confusion. Despite limits on party financing, firms provide extra-legal contributions in exchange for patronage. Referenda are permissible, but rare.

Many private media firms are owned by business groups with government contracts, which trade favorable coverage for business deals. Ownership structures are often non-transparent. Independent online media are beginning to influence the political process.

A recent wave of street protests affirmed free-speech rights despite some police intimidation. The Roma minority is marginalized, and discrimination against foreigners and Muslims is an increasingly serious issue. A judicial-reform plan was delayed by implementation controversies. The anti-corruption framework is extensive but ineffective.



Executive Capacity

With a relatively weak government office, Bulgaria receives a low overall ranking (rank 36) in the area of executive capacity. After declines last year, its score on this measure has recovered to its 2014 level.

Strategic planning has been focused on EU membership requirements. The government office plays a largely administrative role, and the prime minister has little formal power over ministers. Line ministries prepare proposals without significant central input. Informal coordination is vital under coalition governments, but enables influence by special interests.

RIAs are generally perfunctory. The creation of an independent Fiscal Council to review fiscal laws may improve budgetary impact assessment. Following a wave of protests, many agencies and regulatory bodies have opened their work to greater public scrutiny and public participation.

The new government has improved its performance, lowering deficits and improving EU-fund absorption. Monitoring of institutional arrangements takes place largely after problems emerge.

Executive Accountability

With several notable gaps in monitoring effectiveness, Bulgaria scores relatively poorly overall (rank 32) in the area of executive accountability. Its score in this area has declined by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

Citizens’ interest in policy affairs rose significantly during and after the protests of 2013, but has since focused on a few policy areas affecting large groups. Policy knowledge is uneven. The media largely fails to provide reliable high-quality information.

Parliamentarians have very limited resources, and formal executive-oversight powers are not always respected in practice. Repeated overhaul of the audit-office’s enabling legislation has diminished its independence and credibility. The new ombudswoman is a controversial political figure, potentially undermining the position’s role.

Economic-interest associations have relatively strong capabilities, but do not work together well. Other interest organizations typically act as activists rather than analytically.
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