The status quo forces of Bulgarian politics geared up for an election year by introducing controversial last-minute changes to the Electoral Code. Their primary goal is to render preferential voting redundant. The proposal, introduced by the nominally oppositional Movement of Rights and Freedoms, was backed by the ruling GERB party but caused an uproar within the governing coalition, as well as the loud protest of parliamentarian and out-of-parliament opposition, including President Rumen Radev. The Bulgarian Socialist Party currently boycotts the National assembly on the matter, while the future of preferential voting remains hanging on the balance.
After a series of investigations, including by Capital weekly in Bulgaria and by the international investigative network Bellingcat, it was revealed that Bulgarian arms trader Emilian Gebrev might have been poisoned with a nerve agent from the Novichok family back in 2015. The case eerily resembles the attempt to murder ex-spy Sergei Skripal in the UK in the spring of 2018. It was only after the media revelations hit international media and the British secret services entered the investigation that the Bulgarian authorities which usually keep a low profile when it comes to Russia-related matters, took it seriously.
Bulgaria is moving a step closer to joining the common European currency. As part of the preparation phase to join the Euro, six banks in Bulgaria are undertaking an asset quality review and a stress test conducted by the European Central Bank in order to establish close cooperation on banking supervision with the regulator and join the EU's Banking Union. Results are due to come in July but so far the signs are encouraging, with the European Commission claiming that the tests are "going according to plan". The three biggest lenders and the three largest Bulgarian banks are falling in the focus of the review.
After the Commission for the Protection of Competition blocked the attempt of Czech businessman Petr Kellner to acquire Nova TV, one of the two largest privately-owned TV channels in Bulgaria, Bulgarian businessman Kiril Domuschiev signed a contract to purchase the media group. The price tag on the deal is 185 million euros or just as much as Mr Kellner offered to the Swedish MTG group that owns Nova. The deal will be financed by four banks - Unicredit Bulbank, DSK Bank, UBB and BNP Paribas Fortis, the Belgian division of French banking group BNP Paribas.
In December the Bulgarian government announced that it is relaunching the Hemus highway by injecting 1.34 billion levs into the project. Works on the 134 km-long stretch will be executed by the Avtomagistrali Company, a state-owned firm that often wins Road Infrastructure Agency public procurements, but usually subcontracts the actual works to other companies. Avtomagistrali director Stoyan Belichev said the company would need to hire 500 additional personnel and access to information request published by Bulgarian media showed the company does not have sufficient machinery to complete the work on its own.
Bulgaria is rushing to build the 484-km long transit gas pipeline that constitutes a diversion of the Gazprom project TurkStream from Turkey towards Serbia. On a 4 March visit to Sofia, Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev reinstated the position of Russia that it needs guarantees from Brussels that it would not oppose extending one of the legs of the 15.75 billion cubic meter pipeline via Bulgaria. The gas link seeks to circumvent Ukraine.