Bulgaria has long been one of the most politically unstable countries in the European Union. In the last decade, there have been nine government changes and six parliamentary elections, three of which in 2021 alone – accompanied by serious corruption scandals and breaches of reform promises, social and economic crises, mass protests and civil uprisings. In the meantime, citizens have repeatedly raised hopes for reforms. But now those hopes have been dashed once again.
Now another reform dream has been shattered in Bulgaria. On Wednesday, June 22, the government under Prime Minister Kirill Petkov was overthrown in a vote of no confidence in Sofia. It was possibly a predictable end to a long-lingering four-party coalition.
The Petkov government took office just six months ago, in December 2021, with radical reform promises and a year and a half of serious internal crisis. Now its downfall comes at one of the worst possible times in recent years for Bulgaria and at the same time for the European Union: the issue of arms supplies and sanctions against Russia is putting the EU and its member states to the test. The credibility of EU enlargement policy in Southeastern Europe is also being hit harder by Bulgaria’s veto over the start of accession talks with northern Macedonia.
What does Bulgaria want from Northern Macedonia?
Northern Macedonia has long been a political apple of contention in Bulgaria – as it is in the current no-confidence motion. After all, there are common historical and linguistic roots between the two countries. In Bulgaria, however, the citizens of Northern Macedonia are widely regarded as part of the Bulgarian nation and their language as a Bulgarian dialect. In the midst of a political crisis, the controversial former Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has been instrumentalizing the issue in the autumn of 2020: due to serious allegations of corruption against him, he vetoed the start of EU accession talks with Macedonia. to win over nationalist voters.
Bulgaria’s demand is for Northern Macedonia to first recognize its Bulgarian roots and language as a Bulgarian dialect, and then to start negotiations with the EU. – in vain – to bend the resistance in the face of a possible withdrawal of the veto. The leader of the “There is such a people” party, Slavi Trofonov, a member of the Bulgarian government’s four-party coalition, saw Petkov’s policy on the issue as an opportunity to leave the government in early June.
A frustrated society and the agony of reform
For Bulgaria, the end of the Petkov government is a severe blow and is considered likely to lead to even greater social frustration. Bulgaria will walk in uncertain waters in the coming weeks, maybe months. President Rumen Radev can now order the formation of a new government up to three times after the fall of the latter. If all three attempts fail, he is able to call new elections. Kirill Petkov’s party “We continue the change” may be the first party to receive the mandate to form a government.
In the meantime, however, a solution to the dispute over Northern Macedonia is emerging, as parliament finally gave the government the mandate to lift its veto following a mediation initiative by the French EU presidency. Earlier, former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov announced on Wednesday that his party would agree to revoke its veto in parliament. The background to this shift probably lies in the fact that, among other things, Borisov and his party, which belongs to the European People’s Party (EPP), are now under excessive pressure on foreign policy issues. However, in view of the upcoming new elections, Borisov may want to present himself as the leader of a responsible political force.
Keno Fersek Edited by: Chryssa Vachtsevanou
Source: Deutsche Welle