The week: 3 examples to guide you in 2023, we are still on track for the eurozone, new car sales pick-up

The week: 3 examples to guide you in 2023, we are still on track for the eurozone, new car sales pick-up

© Лили Тоушек

Hello dear readers and welcome to 2023!

It looks set to be another year of war, with at least 2 elections and hopefully, with lower inflation and a milder than expected recession. Yet if last year taught us anything, it was to keep a lid on expectations and be wary of long-term planning.

So if you're tired of politics, let me offer a practical take into how things are going to operate in Bulgaria for the next year. It is based on 3 examples.

First, the HEMS. This stands for Helicopter Emergency Medical Service and is something all other EU countries have. Except Bulgaria. This makes life hell for the mountain rescue service and hundreds of volunteers. At New Year, they spent 18 (that's EIGHTEEN) hours on foot across Pirin (pictured above), in order to fetch 2 dead tourists. It could all have been done within an hour with a helicopter.

Now, the thing is, we have the money to buy that, we have the personnel and we have others' examples to implement. Yet it is not happening. Year after year, the Bulgarian government administration simply refuses to solve this quite simple problem. Things have reached the point where it's worth asking if the state is even capable of doing that (a private chopper saved another tourist, which should not be surprising in a country that privatized one of its borders). Second, the toll system. Again, not exactly rocket science. Plenty of countries manage one and quite successfully. Bulgaria's road administration however, seems unable to collect fines, provide online payment service for those and even operate the system on its own. What's more, the caretaker government decided to lower the price of the vignette and to not raise tolls taxes which will deplete the already struggling fund for road maintenance. There is no reason for that beyond populism. And last but not least, energy independence. On this front, surprisingly, things are looking optimistic. This week saw Bulgaria reaching out to Turkey and Greece and for the first time gaining access to Turkish gas terminals, which is a serious breakthrough (more on that here). It also relaunched the Burgas-Alexandroupoli pipeline project, only this time with a reversed flow - oil will come from Greece, not from Russia. All of that, however, came on top of what's already been started last year under the enormous pressure of Gazprom, which halted deliveries. It's safe to assume that if things were not as dramatic, the diversification would have not happened.
So there it is - the picture of how Bulgaria will operate this year. It will keep more or less a straight international line, trying not to denounce Russia too strongly, but still working on options for a future without Moscow. It will stumble and fall on all sorts of challenges which require long-term thinking and planning (Schengen and the euro are a big question in that regard). It will keep its horizons short. And it will deliver some of what people expect, but far from enough.

Yet if you don't expect too much from the state, here is good news for you: probably not doing much will also mean no significant harm. So yes, here we are - no Sweden, but also no Syria. Somewhere in the middle.

This newsletter is helped by

Martin Dimitrov & Mary Ivanova


Last call for a government in this parliament - with mandate #3

On the first working day of the new year, President Rumen Radev gave the second largest party in the current parliament, WCC, the second mandate to form a government. The party had seven days to return the mandate back to Mr Radev - unfulfilled or with a proposal for the composition of a government to be put to a vote in parliament.

WCC nominee for Prime Minister, former education minister Prof Nikolay Denkov, said he would return it unfulfilled if his party's declaration containing four priorities does not gather enough support before the General Assembly vote - and it didn't, so it is likely that Prof Denkov would return it to Dondukov 1 later today.

This means that the President will have to pass the third mandate to a party of his own choosing in the coming weeks, but this attempt would likely fail, too: GERB has said they would only support a neutral candidate or one nominated by Democratic Bulgaria, which in turn is unlikely to receive the last mandate from Mr Radev due to their geopolitical differences.

Geshev gets Christmas greetings from the US Congress

Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev has long tried to play the "Euro-Atlantic" card, chasing off Russian spies and opening cold cases linked to Kremlin-sponsored sabotage and black ops in the country. His game has been to dupe Bulgaria's Western partners into thinking that he can't fight high-level corruption because he is too busy chasing Russian saboteurs (so far with a similar track record to his anti-corruption efforts - non-existent).

It appears that it has not worked. On 22 December, US Congressman Warren Davidson called on the US Treasury Department to take action against alleged "corrupt actions" carried out by Mr Geshev, which threatened "the stability and security of NATO allies in Europe." Mr Davidson, who is a Republican congressman and member of the House Financial Services Committee, sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warning that "most of the malign Russian influence is centered in southeastern Europe, including amongst NATO countries such as Bulgaria", and that "the blatant disregard of US [Magnitsky Act] sanctions by the Bulgarian Prosecutor General is unacceptable and must be addressed".

More from this week:

Will Bulgaria break out of political deadlock in 2023?


The deficit is 2.9%, we're still on track for the euro

Although the forecast was for around 4% the caretaker government managed to bring it down under the 3% ceiling required for eurozone entry. This means Bulgaria still covers the minimum requirements, if it is to try and join next year.

You can bet 160 million levs on that

BNB plans to spend as much this year in order to prepare for entry. More than half of that is for new euro coins - 780 million of them.


780 lv

or 390 euro is the new minimum wage since 1st of January.


Is the growth in new car sales, while second-hand ones are going down by as much, says "Dnevnik", quoting police registrations. The overall result is still over 20% lower than 2019



The healthtech startup has raised an unspecified amount in its seed round. This is the second round of funding the company has raised, after it was backed by Techstars, LAUNCHub Ventures, Force Over Mass Capital, and several Bulgarian and British angel investors in a 1 million dollar pre-seed round. The money from this investment will go towards its US expansion and hiring salespeople.

EU funding

1 billion in 2023 A total of 7 programmes and 1 billion levs will be granted to small and medium companies in the first half of 2023 under the EU Recovery and Sustainability Plan and its new "Competitiveness" program. Various debt instruments are also in the pipeline for companies, the Ministry of Innovation and Growth has announced. One of the most anticipated measures is the opening of the RES and battery program, due to begin soon. There is also great interest in the money for modernizing and purchasing machines and in general - for renovating production.


Alexandroupolis-Burgas oil pipeline project is alive! On Wednesday, the caretaker government approved a Memorandum of Understanding with Greece to explore the feasibility of building the pipeline - one of the three "Grand Slam" energy projects of pro-Russian president Georgi Parvanov (2001 - 2011) who announced it back in 2008. It quitely died in the years after that.

This time around, the pipeline's aim is not to allow Russia to bypass the Bosphorus, but to transport oil from the Greek port on the Aegean Sea to Lukoil's Burgas oil refinery, reducing dependence on Russia. At the moment, however, it is difficult to say whether the project is just another political cudgel or whether it will amount to something.

The cabinet decision says the pipeline should be ready by the end of 2024, presumably to provide alternative supplies after Bulgaria's declaration on the EU embargo on Russian oil expires.

More energy pieces from this week:

Will Lukoil continue dominating Bulgaria's petrol market despite sanctions?


Christo Grozev

The editor of investigative platform Bellingcat was placed on a wanted list at the end of 2022 under an article of the Russian Criminal Code that chases reporters who disseminate disinformation about the Russian army. It took the Bulgarian government several days to protest against the use of what PM Galab Donev called an "intimidatory tactic" by Russia. Grozev himself seemed unfazed, and the Russian ambassador in Bulgaria said he would simply be unwelcome in Russia, but they would not pursue him abroad. Not a very reassuring thought, perhaps, given past occurrences


Stara Zagora, Pernik and Kyustendil

You have to feel a little bit sorry for Bulgaria's coal-mining regions. They are bound to lose employment and industry in the years to come, whatever happens with the war - coal is a dying industry in Europe. Yet because Bulgaria and its populist leadership has not yet decided what to do, they have already forfeited 200 million levs from the EU Transition fund. This is more than the whole investment budget of the 3 municipalities combined for several years.


31 January Speaking of which, the new deadline for those coal transition plans is the end of the month. Probably not happening.


Билетче - Ticket

From 1 January Sofia's public transport system has a new ticketing system. Tickets will be timed for 30 and 60 minutes and commuters can change to different vehicles within this period. They will be priced at 1.60 and 2.20 levs respectively. They can be bought by first picking up a plastic Sofia City Card for 3 leva or a paper one for 0.80 leva from an Urban Mobility Centre sales point. Sounds easy, no?

There is more. The paper ticket will be abolished almost completely and will be sold only by the tram, trolley and bus drivers, but at a price of 2.20 levs. The most used card by non-students or retirees - monthly card for one line, will be abolished, as well as the three- and six-month cards for all lines.

Overall, this has caused a brouhaha in Sofia, and you can see why.

Hello dear readers and welcome to 2023!

It looks set to be another year of war, with at least 2 elections and hopefully, with lower inflation and a milder than expected recession. Yet if last year taught us anything, it was to keep a lid on expectations and be wary of long-term planning.

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