Policy Performance


Economic Policies

Despite some considerable gains, Bulgaria receives comparatively low scores in international comparison (rank 30) with respect to economic policies. Its score on this measure has risen by 0.9 points relative to 2014.

The country’s economy is on a visible upswing, with economic growth accelerating and unemployment rates falling. Employment levels have reached a 20-year high. Macroeconomic imbalances persist, but reflect the stresses of catching up with the more highly developed EU. Attracting foreign investment remains difficult.

Labor-market reforms increasing hiring flexibility in the agricultural sector and providing training for un- and underemployed may be bearing fruit. Secondary-level education reforms aimed at addressing a long-term skills mismatch have been announced.

The tax system is heavily VAT-dependent. Rising income from direct and indirect taxes have enabled balanced budgets for several years. The shadow economy and corresponding degree of tax evasion are shrinking, but remain large. Debt levels are low by EU standards and declining. R&D spending is minimal, with recent increases proving short-lived.

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. A set of modest but promising educational reforms is underway. Income inequality is high and rising. Social policies have difficulties integrating minorities, foreigners and people with sub-secondary-level education.

The health care system is inclusive, but service quality is not high. Robust economic growth has improved the system’s financial stability. Public provision of child care is limited, though family support networks and parental-leave laws are strong.

The pension system does not effectively reduce poverty among the elderly, and is fiscally unsustainable. There is no comprehensive integration policy. Conditions for refugees have been very poor, with nationalistic attitudes rising, and a xenophobic party now in the governing coalition. Organized crime is a serious problem, and violence against migrants has increased.

Environmental Policies

With a positive but cautious climate policy, Bulgaria falls into the upper-middle ranks internationally (rank 15) with regard to environmental policies. Its score in this area has improved by 0.1 point relative to its 2014 level.

Climate policy is mostly focused on a relatively rapid increase in the share of renewables and the elimination of high-carbon-emitting fuel sources. Per-capita C02 emissions are relatively low.

The country lacks a coherent water-resources strategy, with management largely controlled by municipalities. 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 is relatively passive with regard to international environmental policies, but is in the group of East-Central European countries that have expressed caution regarding aggressive carbon targets.



Quality of Democracy

With a number of weak spots, Bulgaria falls into the bottom ranks internationally (rank 35) with regard to democracy quality. Its score on this measure has lost 0.1 point relative to 2014.

Voting has been made compulsory, although penalties are not severe. Despite limits on party financing, firms provide extra-legal contributions in exchange for patronage. Referendums are increasingly popular, but are binding only if voter turnout is high.

Many private media firms are owned by business groups with government contracts, with ownership structures often being non-transparent. However, the sector remains pluralistic overall. Politicians have begun threatening media figures with more frequency, at times with impunity.

The overuse of force by law enforcement, particularly against Roma, is a serious problem. The Roma minority is highly marginalized, and public discourse is increasingly xenophobic, fanned by hate speech propagated in media outlets. Legal certainty is undermined by unpredictable executive action. Judicial independence is improving, and a new anti-corruption agency has been created.



Executive Capacity

With a relatively weak government office, Bulgaria falls into the bottom ranks internationally (rank 36) in the area of executive capacity. Its score on this measure has fallen by 0.1 point relative to its 2014 level.

Strategic planning focuses on EU membership requirements. The government office plays a largely administrative role. The prime minister has little formal power over ministers, but a powerful PM can exert significant informal influence. Line ministries prepare proposals without significant central input. Informal coordination is vital under coalition governments, but lacks transparency.

Promising reforms to the RIA system have not yet produced significant change. Communication coherence has been undermined by a lack of coordination between ministries. The practice of dividing ministries between coalition partners hampers overall monitoring efforts.

The country’s EU and NATO memberships have driven adaptation. The government has successfully lowered deficits and improved EU-fund absorption, and adaptation to EU funding changes is underway. Municipalities often complain of unfunded mandates.

Executive Accountability

With several notable gaps in monitoring effectiveness, Bulgaria scores relatively poorly overall (rank 29) in the area of executive accountability. Its score in this area has improved by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

While activist citizens and businesses tend to have a strong grasp of current policies within their areas of interest, policy knowledge throughout society as a whole is highly uneven. Some high-quality investigative journalism and commentary exists, but most print-media organizations prioritize their owners’ businesses over strong reporting.

Parliamentarians have very limited resources, and formal executive-oversight powers are not always respected in practice. The Audit Office performs its tasks in a clear and professional manner, and makes its findings available to the public. The ombudswoman is an activist but polarizing figure.

Political-party decision-making styles differ. Economic-interest associations have relatively strong capabilities, with labor unions behaving almost like parties in terms of the breadth of their policy positions. Other interest organizations are more activist than analytical.
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