Bulgaria 'Would Abandon Planning' without EU Pressure - Bertelsmann

Bulgaria in EU | March 2, 2016, Wednesday // 12:14|  views

Planning "would probably have disappeared completely" from Bulgarian policy-making "were it not for the EU pressure", a report on Bulgaria by the Bertelsmann Stiftung reads.

According to the 2016 report on Bulgaria by the Bertelsmann Transformation Index, planning could would have been absent "even as a tool for designing long-term sectoral policies, not to mention multi-sectoral policies requiring strong coordination across agencies."

The Bertelsmann report also voices "concern about the "control of major media by a limited number of oligarchs," a process triggered after the withdrawal of some foreign investors from the country.

Bulgaria's dropping positions in media freedom rankings (the Reporters without Borders ranking is cited her) has also been noted.

The Rule of Law section reads that "Public trust in the judiciary continues to be very low, and most political parties and politicians recognize that this is a major problem for Bulgarian politics." It also recalls the doubt cast in 2014 over the random assignemt of court cases, the "Belvedere" case with dismissed judge Rumyana Chenalova, prompted by the involvement of French Ambassador Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes in the autumn of the same year, and the lack of effective prosecution of high-level corruption and abuse of office cases.

"The overall impression is that there has been no progress in improving the judiciary since Bulgaria joined the EU."

The 2013-2014 period of political instability "was characterized by a lack of consensus reflecting deep societal cleavages", and that "made it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue long-term goals."

Public polls dated 2014 are cited according to which "only 5% of the public trusted parliament and political parties."

"The government has consistently failed to adequately change legislation or reform public sector practices to prevent the future abuse of public resources," the executive summary also reads.

Bulgaria's economy, despite having moved out of recession in 2009, "remains stuck in a state of low economic growth and increasing unemployment."

Weaknesses in the regulatory framework for the banking sector were exposed by the bankruptcy of Corporate Commercial Bank (Corpbank or KTB), which was once the country's fourth-largest lender.

Another highlighted issue is "a widespread nostalgia for the communist regime among older generations" as a sign of dissatisfaction with the current transition to a market economy:

"A survey, carried out by the Open Society Institute Sofia in August 2014, found that 47% of respondents would accept some limitation of their civil rights and freedoms, if it would guarantee greater income security and economic stability. In addition, 18% of respondents to the same question could not decide. This suggests that there is a latent support for undemocratic policy agendas."

There are also "huge problems" with Bulgaria's industrial and household energy efficiency.

"Expenditure on education as a proportion of GDP in Bulgaria is the second lowest of any EU country," Bertelsmann says.

Strategic challenges, singled out by Bertelsmann, include:

"An increasing public budget deficit. This is further complicated by an increasing demand for greater healthcare and education services. In addition, the current pension system is unsustainable, while emerging regional security threats have increased the pressure on current national security expenditure. Taxes and/or social security contributions will have to be increased to avoid substantial future increases in public debt.

The European Commission has stated that judicial reform is urgently needed. Despite numerous public protests, pressure from foreign diplomats and a series of public scandals, no reform has yet been achieved.

Public trust in state institutions and the political system is at an all-time low. However, this is not an issue that can be addressed directly by introducing a specific policy or changing the government’s PR and communication approach. Public trust will only be restored after deep, structural changes are implemented.

Improving the quality of healthcare provision and making healthcare services equally accessible to everyone. The new Minister of Health is among the most popular politicians in the current government, though ever this popularity is low. Yet, some of the proposed policies have the potential to increase disparities in access to healthcare services. The proposed healthcare reforms will likely prove to be inadequate.

Issues of poverty and inequalities in accessing public services remain key socioeconomic challenges. These challenges highlight the continued failure to socially and economically integrate minority groups, such as the Romani. In addition, the increasing number of migrants arriving in Bulgaria will further exacerbate these challenges."

The full report is available here.

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Tags: Bulgaria, Bertelsmann Stiftung, KTB, Corporate Commercial Bank, Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes


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