Sunday

25th Feb 2018

New Bulgarian president has bulging in-tray

  • Rumen Radev, a former air force commander, is a political novice with a lot on his plate. (Photo: Reuters)

During the final debate in Bulgaria's presidential election, Rumen Radev was asked if he was the pro-Western or pro-Russian candidate. “I’m the pro-Western,” he answered, with confidence.

But his critics have long suspected that he is a bit too close to the Kremlin. And his overwhelming victory in Sunday's (13 November) election – he won almost 60 percent of the vote – has increased their fear that he will push Bulgaria away from Nato and the EU, and towards Russia.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The departure of pro-EU prime minister Boyko Borisov, whose resignation was approved on Wednesday by the National Assembly, has done little to allay the sense of crisis.

Borisov made good on an earlier promise to quit if his favoured presidential candidate, ex-parliamentary speaker Tsetska Tsacheva, was defeated. In the end, she was well beaten by the former air force commander, who has no political experience.

Instructive ambiguities

But at least on foreign policy, experts have some calming words. “Radev is quite similar to Borisov on geopolitics,” says Parvan Simeonov, director of Gallup International Balkans, a polling firm.

“People clearly understand the need for the European Union,” he told EUobserver.

“Plotting a new geopolitical course would be difficult because more than 50 percent of Bulgarians approve our membership of the EU. No other institution in the country enjoys such confidence.”

Indeed, during his campaign, Radev said he stood “strongly” behind Bulgaria's membership of Nato and the EU.

But at other times, he seemed lukewarm, saying there was “no alternative” to the EU and Nato, but that did not mean Bulgaria had to be an enemy of Russia.

He also repeatedly said Crimea was “de jure” a part of Ukraine, but “de facto” Russian.

It is these comments that have resonated in the corridors of power, particularly with EU-friendly politicians.

“As independent observers have shown, little doubt remains that the president-elect is pro-Kremlin,” Antoni Trenchev, an MP with the centrist Bulgaria for Citizens Movement, told EUobserver.

Trenchev is concerned that Radev‘s election is a sign of a change in Bulgarians' mindset, which will ultimately lead to closer ties with Moscow.

The job nobody wants

But other political insiders think that, in the short term at least, Radev will be bogged down with so many domestic issues that geopolitical shifts will have to take a back seat.

First item on the agenda? Try to make sure there is a functioning government to bridge the gap until parliamentary elections due next spring.

Borisov's centre-right GERB party is the biggest in parliament, but he has said they will refuse any request to form another government.

The next biggest is the Socialist Party, which backed Radev's presidential bid. However, Socialist chairwoman Korneliya Ninova has also said her party will refuse the mandate.

It looks like new president Radev will have to install some kind of caretaker government – the third in Bulgaria in five years.

Added to these practical difficulties, there is now a groundswell of opinion, reflected in a referendum held alongside the presidential vote, for reform of the electoral system.

The president will be expected to act on the overwhelming result of the referendum backing al first-past-the-post voting system. This, however, will require changes to the constitution.

And Bulgaria still suffers from widespread corruption and a legacy of failed reform efforts, particularly within the judicial system.

Borisov's former justice minister Hristo Ivanov, who resigned after failing to pass reforms, doubts that a political novice such as Radev will be handle to handle these various challengs.

“The deep crisis of the Bulgarian state is the result of the refusal to reform the prosecution system and conduct a real fight against the high-level corruption,“ Ivanov told EUobserver.

“The biggest challenge for the president-elect is to evaluate this reality and turn the votes he received into power for real reforms.“

Radev has few formal powers - he can block legislation and is responsible for installing caretaker governments - but amid such overlapping crises, he will be expected to give the country some direction.

His term formally begins on 22 January next year. By then, his in-tray is likely to be overflowing.

Bulgarians lack faith in rule of law

Bulgaria remains mired in corruption, with most of its citizens having lost faith in their judicial system despite nine years of EU monitoring and pressure.

Bulgaria seen as most corrupt in EU

The latest report from Transparency International ranks Bulgaria as the most corrupt in terms of perception in the entire EU.

Bulgaria's election test

Sunday's general elections will be a test for the country's relations with the EU, Russia, and Turkey, as well as for the political future of former leader Borisov.

Corruption report: Hungary gets worse, Italy makes progress

Italians, Czechs and Latvians perceive less corruption than a few years ago in Transparency International's annual ranking. The Berlin-based NGO said Finland was a 'worrying case', whilst Bulgaria - which holds the EU presidency - is EU's most corrupt.

News in Brief

  1. EU calls for immediate ceasefire in Syria
  2. UK's post-Brexit vision is 'pure illusion', Tusk says
  3. EU leaders express solidarity with Cyprus in Turkey drill row
  4. EU to double funding for Sahel forces
  5. EU parliament president: 'The immigration problem is Africa'
  6. May to unveil EU departure strategy next week
  7. Pregnant workers may be dismissed, EU court rules
  8. Romanian minister demands anti-corruption prosecutor fired

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeAnkara Ban on LGBTI Events Continues as Turkish Courts Reject NGO Appeals
  2. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  3. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.European Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  5. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  6. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  8. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name

Latest News

  1. EU agrees budget to focus on defence, security and migration
  2. EU leaders nix transnational lists, cool on 'Spitzenkandidat'
  3. Regions chief: calls for smaller EU budget are 'impossible'
  4. Election fever picks up This WEEK
  5. EU-Morocco fishing deal casts doubt on EU future foreign policy
  6. EU leaders put 'Spitzenkandidat' on summit menu
  7. European far-right political party risks collapse
  8. The key budget issues on EU leaders' table

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  3. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  4. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections
  5. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  6. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  8. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  10. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  11. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission
  12. Dialogue PlatformWhat Can Christians Learn from a Global Islamic Movement?