Sustainable Policies


Economic Policies

Despite some 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 0.5 points relative to 2014.

The country has experienced consistent robust growth for years, interrupted only in 2020. Unemployment rates have been under 5% aside from a brief surge in 2020 and early 2021. However, this is in part due to labor shortages rather than targeted policies. Minimum wage and social security thresholds fuel informal contracts and keep unemployment rates high in poor areas.

Many years of fiscal surpluses kept debt levels comparatively low even through the pandemic, although deficits were expected through 2023. Debt as a share of GDP rose above 25% in late 2021, but dropped rapidly afterward. Economic policies have deteriorated recently, with large public procurement projects issued on a non-competitive basis.

The tax system is heavily VAT-dependent, with direct taxes accounting for a comparatively small share of government revenues. Personal and corporate income taxes are set at a flat 10% rate. Plans to adopt the euro by 2024 have been delayed due to increasing inflation rates. R&D spending is low.

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.

The country was hard hit by COVID-19, with a death rate that was among the world’s highest. Vaccination rates were among the lowest in the EU. Before the pandemic, hospital bed and medical staff figures were strong, but management of the healthcare system has been poor. About 20% of the population – and about 55% of the Roma population – does not have health insurance.

There is significant geographic variance in education quality. Children from upper-income families often attend private schools. Poverty rates have fallen substantially over the last decade, but remain very high among Roma. Social policies have difficulties in integrating minorities, foreigners and people with sub-secondary-level education.

Day care enrollment rates are low, with parents often depending on family support networks to provide childcare. The pension system does not effectively reduce poverty among the elderly, and is fiscally unsustainable. No policy for integrating migrants exists, and anti-EU parties have demonized refugees to boost their own popularity.

Environmental Policies

With a cautious climate policy, Bulgaria falls into the lower-middle ranks internationally (rank 26) with regard to environmental policies. Its score in this area is unchanged relative to its 2014 level.

The country slightly exceeded renewable-energy use targets in 2020, with about 20% of total energy consumption coming from renewable sources. Half of this was provided by hydropower facilities. No new facilities were added to the system in 2021, and little progress has been made in phasing out polluting facilities.

Severe water shortages have been a problem in recent years, hampering industrial production. A state water company has been created in response. Half of the state’s environmental spending goes toward waste and water management.

The government has been reluctant to adopt aggressive carbon-reduction targets. The country has the EU’s third-largest share of territory falling under biodiversity protections.

Robust Democracy


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 declined by 0.4 points relative to 2014.

The party-financing regime was overhauled in 2019, diminishing state support and giving a greater role to uncapped business-sector donations. Parties are required to submit financial reports and are penalized for irregularities. Observers suspect that parties underreport totals. Electronic voting was introduced in 2021, without reports of problems.

New anti-corruption rules have been put in place. While governments have exerted significant influence over the media in recent years, this pressure has subsided somewhat. Media pluralism has expanded, although a number of small and regional outlets shut down during the pandemic.

The overuse of force by law enforcement, particularly against Roma and protesters, is a serious problem. The Roma minority is marginalized, and the public discourse is increasingly xenophobic. The prosecutor general has acted without accountability, even raiding presidential advisors. NGOs and independent journalists have presented evidence that the officeholder has abused his position.

Good Governance


Executive Capacity

Hampered by instability, Bulgaria receives comparatively low rankings (rank 35) in the area of executive capacity. Its score on this measure has fallen by 0.4 points relative to its 2014 level.

Executive capabilities have been weakened by repeated short-lived coalitions and caretaker governments. Under the Petkov government that took office in 2021, the prime minister and finance minister took a greater oversight role in policy development. The prime minster was responsible for coordination among coalition parties.

RIAs are largely formalistic when performed. The frequency of public consultation increased substantially under the Petkov government. An expansion of public hearings was intended to improve communications, but messaging around the state budget remained inconsistent. Successive governments have failed to rein in the prosecutor general or depoliticize the judiciary.

The Petkov government increased funding for municipal governments. COVID-19 regulations were enforced in certain localities and against certain ethnic groups (especially Roma) in ways that violated rights. Bulgaria isolated itself international due to its position vis-à-vis North Macedonia. A diversity of opinion in the governing coalition regarding Russia complicated the country’s international relations.

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 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. Print-media organizations often prioritize their owners’ businesses over strong reporting. Media coverage of COVID-19 was very weak, and contributed to the failure of the country’s vaccination campaign.

Parliamentarians’ resources have been expanded but remain moderate at best. Formal oversight powers are adequate. 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. Significant recent data breaches have exposed the weakness of the data-protection commission.

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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