Policy Performance


Economic Policies

Despite notable progress in recent years, Bulgaria receives comparatively low scores in international comparison (rank 32) with respect to economic policies. Its score on this measure has risen by 0.8 points relative to 2014.

The country’s economy continues to show positive gains, with economic growth remaining strong. Employment levels surpassed their 2009 level in 2017, and grew further in 2018. Unemployment rates have continued to fall to below the EU average.

However, exports decreased in 2018, and FDI has dropped to the lowest level this century. Inflation is accelerating. Businesses complain about judicial-system problems that result in property-rights and contract uncertainties. Regional development is very uneven, and R&D spending is minimal, with mid-decade increases having proved unsustained.

The tax system is heavily VAT-dependent, with direct taxes contributing about 20% of government revenues. The government has maintained small fiscal surpluses for several years. Public debt levels are low and declining toward 20% of GDP. The country is making preparations to join the European banking union.

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 is unchanged relative to 2014.

Education quality is comparatively low, with significant geographical variance. Public spending on schools is rising as a share of GDP. Income inequality levels are high and rising. Social policies have difficulties in integrating minorities, foreigners and people with sub-secondary-level education.

The health care system is inclusive, with key outcome indicators improving in recent years. Economic growth has improved the system’s financial stability. However, unregulated side payments to doctors are widespread, securing faster and better care. 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. No policy for integrating migrants exists, and the junior government-coalition member, an alliance of nationalist parties, is vocally anti-immigrant. Organized crime and violence against migrants remain serious problems.

Environmental Policies

With a cautious climate policy, Bulgaria falls into the middle ranks internationally (rank 21) with regard to environmental policies. Its score in this area has improved by 0.1 point relative to its 2014 level.

After a strong increase early in the decade, the share of renewables in Bulgaria’s energy mix has stagnated. However, the carbon-dioxide intensity of the economy is gradually decreasing, and per-capita CO2 emissions remain 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 36) with regard to democracy quality. Its score on this measure has lost 0.2 points relative to 2014.

A provision making voting compulsory was overturned by courts. Despite limits on party financing, firms frequently provide extra-legal contributions to parties in exchange for political 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. Ownership of the print media in particular is highly concentrated and non-transparent. An effort to ratify the Istanbul Convention on preventing violence against women failed, with the public debate showing distrust in state-driven efforts to strengthen rights of women and sexual minorities.

The overuse of force by law enforcement, particularly against Roma, is a serious problem. The Roma minority is highly marginalized, and the public discourse is increasingly xenophobic. Legal certainty is undermined by unpredictable executive action. Judicial independence is improving, but questions are emerging about a new anti-corruption agency’s effectiveness.



Executive Capacity

With a relatively weak government office, Bulgaria receives comparatively low rankings (rank 34) in the area of executive capacity. Its score on this measure has fallen by 0.2 points relative to its 2014 level.

Strategic planning focuses on EU membership requirements. The government office plays a largely administrative role, but is developing policy-evaluation capabilities. 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.

Promising reforms have improved the RIA system, but assessments are still formalistic. Though ex post assessments are technically required, they are not regularly performed. The government enforces regulations in an inconsistent and often biased way. Public communication often appears aimed at hiding rather than highlighting the true intentions behind policies.

The country’s EU and NATO memberships have driven adaptation. The government rarely sets publicly accessible policy-performance benchmarks, with budgeting and EU-membership requirements being an exception. A roadmap for integration into the euro zone and EU banking union has been agreed with EU partners. 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 more generally is highly uneven. Most print-media organizations prioritize their owners’ businesses over strong reporting, though some high-quality investigative journalism is being published online. An open-data portal offers considerable data but can be difficult to use.

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, but lacks the power to act on its findings. The current ombudswoman has been an active figure, but has no formal powers beyond making proposals and rendering opinions.

Political-party decision-making styles differ. Economic-interest associations have relatively strong capabilities, with labor unions drafting proposals on a very wide range of economic and political issues. Other interest organizations are more activist than analytical.
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