18th Mar 2018


Angry Bulgarians feel EU membership has brought few benefits

  • Protests in Bulgaria last year (Photo: Uwe Hiksch)

For Bulgarians 2013 was marked by two phenomena: protests and political intrigue.

The year started with the biggest nationwide demonstrations in 16 years. In early February, people took to the streets to protest against high electricity prices and austerity measures.

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.

In a surprise move, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, leader of the ruling centre-right GERB party, which is a member of the European People's Party, resigned in February and the country went to the polls on 12 May.

But the results did not bring an end to the discontent.

Boyko Borisov's GERB got 31 percent of the vote, making it the first party since the fall of communism to win two consecutive elections.

However it lost a third of the vote it received in 2009 – winning only 98 deputies in the 240-seat assembly – and therefore lost its majority in the parliament.

The left-wing Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) received 27 percent of the vote; the Turkish party Movements for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) scooped 11 percent; and Ataka ("Attack"), an extreme right-wing nationalist party, received 7 percent.

Turnout was at a record low – just above 50 percent.

The government that followed, a coalition between the Socialist and the Turkish minority parties, was the result of backroom deals.

According to the National Statistics Institute, 1,343,007 out of 7,364,570 Bulgarians voted for this combination.

Unhappy at home

With social unrest and frustration about poor living standards and corruption rising, such a government was always likely to be politically unstable.

Soon after the elections, on June 14, media mogul Delyan Peevski was appointed head of the State Agency of National Security (DANS).

Protests broke out once more. Within an hour tens of thousands of Bulgarians had gathered in front of the parliament. Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski rescinded the appointment and apologised but the initial protest had already turned into an anti-government movement demanding resignation.

Oresharski refused to step down and the protests went on, sending the three-week-old government into a deep political crisis.

Bulgarians were outraged that Peevski, who heads up a growing media empire that backs whichever government is in power, should be given access to classified information and the power to decide on arrests and wiretaps.

Even when his appointment was withdrawn, tens of thousands of Bulgarians kept up a daily protest, demanding the resignation of the Prime minister – something Oresharski refused to do.

The constitutional court reinstated Peevski as an MP on 25 October prompting thousands of students to occupy Sofia University, temporarily shutting down the biggest university in the country.

All three protests, though different in their origins, sprung from the same frustration with corruption and oligarchy. Some 51 percent of citizens support the anti-government protests, according to Alpha Research.

Official statistics lend weight to this anger: only 14 percent of new appointments in the state administration during the last six months were the result of a public competition.

Some say the protests created a new civil society and a new political environment where governments will no longer be able to get away with clientelism. But others note that the demonstrations did not manage to bring the government down.

It is in this politically toxic environment that European elections will take place on 25 May. The political situation is so fragile that the day may also see national parliament elections held too.

Although there are just three months to go until the EU vote, there is little sign of it to date.

The parties’ lists are not ready and campaigning has not yet started.

Polls show that 38 percent of Bulgarians will not bother to vote. But those who do go to the urns are likely to give the Bulgarian Socialist Party the largest share of the vote (19 percent), followed by the centre-right GERB (18 percent), the Turkish minority party 6 percent and the Reformist bloc, a newly-formed rightist grouping, 4 percent.

The far-right Ataka would get around 2 percent, representing a substantial loss. In 2007 Ataka got 14 percent in the European Parliament elections. Its support has been dwindling ever since. In the national elections in 2009 it got 9 percent and in 2013 this fell to 7 percent.

But the party, which wants "Bulgaria for Bulgarians", should not be underestimated.

Lately it has made Syrian refugees – some 7000 have arrived in Bulgaria – its main cause. And the besieged government has worked to Ataka's advantage.

Ataka managed to push a ban on land sale to foreign citizens, despite EU regulations. It also drove the decision to construct a fence to keep Syrians out along part of the border with Turkey. Meanwhile other parties – be they from the right or the left – are not politically squeamish about teaming up with Ataka.

So the bets are on for the party to play a much bigger role than predicted in the May elections.

Not so happy about the EU either

But if Bulgarians are unhappy with their domestic political lot (just 26 percent trust the government), it does not make them rosy-eyed about the EU.

Less than a third of them (32 percent) feel the seven years of EU membership has brought about positive change, 17 percent feel it has been negative while 51 percent do not believe it has resulted in significant change.

On a personal level the results are starker still. Only 15 percent feel that EU membership has brought positive benefits for them. Seventy three percent say it has not.

Bulgarian voters will elect 17 MEPs to the 751-strong European Parliament on 25 May.

The article originally referred to Bulgaria as the EU's new member state. It is not; Croatia is.

News in Brief

  1. Sweden emerges as possible US-North Korean summit host
  2. Google accused of paying academics backing its policies
  3. New interior minister: 'Islam doesn't belong to Germany'
  4. Hamburg 'dieselgate' driver wins case to get new VW car
  5. Slovak deputy PM asked to form new government
  6. US, Germany, France condemn 'assault on UK sovereignty'
  7. MEPs accept Amsterdam as seat for EU medicines agency
  8. Auditors: EU farm 'simplification' made subsidies more complex

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceConmtroversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  2. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  3. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  5. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  6. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  7. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  8. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  9. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?
  10. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  11. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  12. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework

Latest News

  1. Brexit and trade will top This WEEK
  2. Dutch MPs in plan to shut EU website on Russian propaganda
  3. Four years on – but we will not forget illegally-occupied Crimea
  4. Evacuated women from Libya arrive newly-pregnant
  5. Merkel in Paris for eurozone reform talks
  6. Commission rejects ombudsman criticism over Barroso case
  7. Western allies back UK amid Russian media blitz
  8. Meet the European Parliament's twittersphere

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  2. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  3. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  4. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  5. EUobserverNow Hiring! Sales Associate With 2+ Years Experience
  6. EUobserverNow Hiring! Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience
  7. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  10. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections
  12. CECEIndustry Stakeholders Are Ready to Take the Lead in Digital Construction