Executive Summary

Opening door to
extreme parties
The election of the opposition candidate for president, Rumen Radev, in November 2016 led to the resignation of the center-right Borissov government and early parliamentary elections in March 2017. However, Boyko Borissov’s Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) managed to win the parliamentary elections, while the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) came second – more than five percentage points behind GERB. In April 2017, Borissov formed his third government, this time in coalition with the United Patriots – a formation of three extreme nationalist and xenophobic parties. The United Patriots’ electoral success is largely attributable to the hostile public reaction to the relatively small number of refugees residing in Bulgaria and failure of integration policies.
Economic performance improving, but serious gaps remain
During the second and third Borissov governments, economic performance improved due to the restoration of fiscal control, increased labor market flexibility, improved export performance and the impact of increased economic growth in Europe. As a result, labor force participation and employment rates increased noticeably reaching record levels for the last 25 years. These positive developments notwithstanding, Bulgaria still faces serious challenges in terms of improving skills levels, innovation capacity and productivity. The country continues to lag severely in both public and private research and innovation funding. Other serious problems include the relatively low-skilled labor force, and the economic exclusion of people with low educational attainment and some minority groups. Three main challenges in this area remain, namely reform of the education sector to produce a more adequate skills base; negative demographic trends which, given the existing health care and pension systems, continue to squeeze the labor market; and the need to further increase labor-market flexibility.
Judicial reforms
Recent years saw minor changes in electoral law and some attempts to reform the judiciary. In 2016, voting became obligatory, although the initial sanction for non-compliance was largely symbolic and later declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court. Constitutional amendments to the structure of the Supreme Judicial Council were adopted and the election of a new council in 2017 promises improvements to the judicial system, especially with respect to judges’ career development and independence. Implementation of anti-corruption reforms has been slow and yielded little in the way of palpable change, with a newly introduced reform package awaiting parliamentary ratification in late 2017. Traditional media remains nontransparent in terms of ownership, and serves narrow business and political interests. Overall, media independence and performance continues to deteriorate. Under the Borissov governments, the scope for popular decision-making was expanded significantly, with national referendums taking place on several occasions. The November 2016 referendum almost passed the approval threshold for becoming obligatory for parliament.
Strategic capacity
not a key focus
The executive’s institutional capacity to coordinate and plan strategically is limited. While EU membership has increased strategic planning, interministerial coordination is weak and there is no mechanism for regularly monitoring institutional arrangements. The second and third Borissov governments paid little attention to addressing these issues. Even though both Borissov governments were coalitions, which could have provided explicit coalition agreements precisely detailing policy coordination and responsibilities, Borissov and his key coalition partners chose to proceed in an informal manner without explicit agreements. This remains the case with the 2017 government coalition between GERB and the extreme United Patriots. Despite the lack of a clear coalition agreement, the United Patriots, at least as part of the government, have behaved more moderately than initially expected.
Slow RIA progress
The RIA framework was enhanced in 2016, even though initial evaluations of its first few months of implementation indicate only limited progress in strengthening impact assessments. Slow starts notwithstanding, the existence and operation of the independent Fiscal Council and the RIA framework promise better-informed legislation. The necessity for Bulgaria to formulate priorities and take a leadership position with respect to the EU agenda due to Bulgaria’s upcoming Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2018 may boost strategic planning and coordination capacity within government.
A reactive, not
proactive actor
Internationally, Bulgaria continues to behave reactively on issues ranging from international financial stability to climate change, international democratic assistance and migration. Even though migration is an important issue in domestic Bulgarian politics, the country remains incapable of formulating a concise and well-defined position. While it never obstructs measures aimed at developing the framework for international cooperation, it is also never among the drivers of international cooperation.
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