If side observers looks into the 128 page-long governing program of the third cabinet led by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov since 2009, they will be astonished by the number of measures (902) and goals (236) that the new-old PM and his team have set for the next three and a half years. Yet, behind the fluff of the numbers, there is little substance. Much like many governing documents, what's missing from this program is what really matters.
And the most crucial elements that are nowhere to be found in the program of the coalition government of GERB and ultra-nationalist and chauvinist United Patriots alliance are the ones of much needed reform. After the second Borissov government of GERB and their then coalition partner, the Reformist Bloc, failed to live up to public expectations voiced during 2013 protests for a more just and transparent government entrenched in the rule of law, the new cabinet seems to have abandoned the entire justice reform narrative altogether.
A ray of light in the tunnel of mediocrity
But before getting into what is wrong with the program, let's see what is all right.
Despite fears that the United Patriots would drag their coalition partner GERB too much into anti-European nationalism, there are few indications for such a shift. Bulgaria remains committed to faster integration into the European financial framework, targeting membership of the European Union's Exchange Rate Mechanism II (ERM-II) first, and from there - joining the Eurozone and the Single Banking Union.
These goals seem ever more in reach after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker urged expansion of the Eurozone in his State of the Union address on September 13.
In its program, Borissov-3 government says the bid to join the Eurozone will be backed by an effort to achieve zero budget deficit by 2020.
Another positive idea of the new government is to cut red tape to give a boost to business activity. According to Mr. Borissov's statements in recent months, the lowering of administrative barriers will indeed be the soundbite of the third government he is leading, like fighting smuggling was during his first term and fighting corruption - during the second. Completion of electronic government agenda has also been set as a goal but recent attempts to connect into a network the piecemeal e-gov solutions (derogatively known as 'electric government') haven't been too successful.
There is also a promise to launch an electronic platform for public procurement contracts by 2018, which should make more transparent one of the murkiest activities of the public sector. The program also contains good intentions to reform legislation dealing with public sector audit and financial control, but there isn't much detail about what changes are to follow.
Last, but not least, the new program puts forward the dual vocational education as a priority. This is great, as until now all practical steps to integrate the system have been undertaken by foreign chambers of commerce, including the Austrian, Swiss and German ones.
There are two groups of problems with the government program. The first one what is to be done by the new coalition government and the second one is what is not to be completed by the end of its four-year term in 2021.
The decision to re-launch Belene nuclear power plant project falls into the first batch. The project was officially abandoned in 2012 by the first Borissov government, which cited lack of money to build the mammoth 2000 MW power plant. Although the government only plans to 'analyse the possibilities' to re-launch the project, Belene is still going to haunt political debate and suck government funds for expert research.
All in all, the program sets the goal of changing an astonishing number of 109 laws in the following three and a half years, which means the government will either rush through legislation to pass a change every 12-13 days, or it just won't fulfil its promises (which might be better, in the end). Finally, the promise of the United Patriots to increase minimum pensions while ignoring overall pension reform to accommodate the aging population, makes the looming crisis in the sector even more worrisome.
Finally, here comes the most substantial problem of the program - what it ignores.
The judicial reform - proclaimed to have been 'completed' by the failed presidential candidate of GERB, now justice minister Tsetska Tsacheva, on a trip to China last year - is mentioned only on a passing note in the program and has been spared just two pages. There is, of course, no word about a reform of state prosecution, yet there are aspirations to amend and simplify administrative law and the Code of Penal Procedure. The rest of the reforms mentioned in the section allocated to judicial reform have been recycled from past programs. The establishment of anti-corruption body and the fight against the phenomenon that hinders foreign investment in the country are also just briefly mentioned. The topic has already sparked a debate between the government and opposition who should appoint the head of the future anti-corruption bureau - the parliament or the president - instead of how to make the institution bulletproof to outside pressures.
"There is simply no alternative to us. We are the best," Mr. Borissov claimed in the transcript from a recent cabinet meeting. Apparently, that is indeed the case, at least for the foreseeable future.
"Bulgarian parties have discovered a basic principle of the "post-truth" society - it is more important to keep up with the narrative, rather than to act upon it," Bulgarian sociologist Parvan Simeonov from Gallup International - Balkan said in a recent interview, summarizing the way the government program will work.
- Easing or removing administrative and/or regulatory regimes that hinder the development of medium and small size enterprises and policies that support the latter;
- Implementing a strategy for the development of the capital market;
- No planned changes in the rates of the direct taxes or in the existing tax deductions and the VAT registration threshold;
- Focus on improving living conditions through the new mechanism for setting the minimum wage and an increase in teachers' salaries and pensions. Providing high levels of economic growth that would lead to average salary of 1500 levs by the end of the mandate;
- Maintaining stable financial outlook in order to facilitate Bulgaria's application to the ERM-II mechanism;
- Focus on decentralization and improving regional administrative capacity through the introduction of e-governance and providing better public services;
- Analysis of the possibilities to restart the Belene Nuclear Power Plant project, completing the gas hub Balkan and the energy links to Greece, Serbia and Turkey by 2020.
- Completing the third line of the Sofia metro, constructing intermodal terminals in Varna and Vidin, modernizing or constructing six railway lines, completing 250 km. of the Hemus highway between Sofia and Varna and the Sofia-Kalotina highway towards Serbia;
- Simplifying and optimizing administrative and penal justice regimes, launching an anti-corruption agency;
- Teaching 6000 practicing police officers to investigate and opening police departments in smaller settlements, without hiring new officers.
- Reaching the goal of spending 2% of GDP on military has been postponed from 2021 to 2024.