Tuesday

31st May 2016

Bulgarian government to resign amid austerity protests

  • PM Borisov, a former bodyguard, has resigned over police brutality (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Bulgaria's centre-right government tendered its resignation on Wednesday (20 February) after days of street protests against rising electricity prices. The move is the latest in a series of EU governments stepping down amid public anger over austerity and mismanagement, in countries like Greece, Portugal, Spain, Slovakia and Romania.

"The people gave us power and today we are returning it," Prime Minister Bojko Borisov said when making the surprise announcement in parliament.

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Just a day earlier, Borisov had firmly stated he would not step down, even as protests grew wider and the focus shifted from utility companies and electricity bills to the government itself.

Sacking the finance minister and withdrawing the licence of a Czech power firm, CEZ, also failed to appease the crowds.

On Tuesday evening clashes between pockets of violent protesters and police put at least 14 people in hospital. Images of protesters covered in blood shocked the Bulgarian public.

In his snap speech in the parliament on Wednesday, Borisov said the main reason for his cabinet's resignation is to put an end to violence.

"I will not participate in a government under which police are beating people. Every drop of blood is a shame for us," he told MPs.

The resignation still has to be validated by the Bulgarian parliament, with Borisov's majority indicating it will vote in favour.

Early elections could then take place in May or June, even though regular parliamentary elections were due in July. The President will give the main political groups a mandate to form an interim government once the parliament approves the resignation. Borisov may stay on as head of a caretaker government.

An European Commission spokeswoman on Wednesday said "a democratic process has started in Bulgaria and we respect that. It is up to the Bulgarian parliament to decide on the next steps."

Borisov, a former bodyguard of Bulgaria's Communist-era leader Todor Zhivkov, came to power in 2009 on an anti-mafia ticket. But his heavy-handed approach, combined with intransigent poverty - Bulgaria is the EU's poorest country - corruption and mafia killings have dented his popularity.

The drop that filled the glass was rising electricity costs in a country where people rely on electric heaters to warm up their flats during the cold winter months.

Average salaries of around €400 a month have not increased in years.

For its part, the EU commission recently praised Borisov's government for curbing the public deficit and putting a freeze on pensions and wages, with Bulgaria one of the few EU countries to stick to the deficit rule of three percent of GDP.

Similar to neighbouring Romania, where anti-austerity protests toppled a centre-right government last year and led to a landslide victory for the centre-left, Bulgaria may see a change of power after the upcoming vote.

But the people's disappointment in the political elite, whether this or that camp, is set to linger.

Finance ministers baulk at tax-avoidance rules

Member states will discuss again in June a proposed directive to outlaw practices used by large companies to avoid paying taxes. Meanwhile, the European Parliament makes progress on its probe of Panama Papers.

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