Today is the last working day of the 48th National Assembly, as tomorrow President Rumen Radev will dissolve it and set the date for Bulgaria's fourth early election in less than two years. This is a good moment to recap what this Parliament - which held on for almost four months - accomplished.
Once the official results of the last election became available it was clear that a potential coalition was effectively impossible. So, the MPs set out with a minimalist task - to pass the 20-odd legislative changes required by the EU to secure the second installment of the Recovery and Resilience plan funding. Yet, this did not happen.
As usual, the different parties quickly entered pre-election mode and started outbidding themselves with populism. While some of it was useful (the Ukraine aid), most was not - the state will continue operating with the 2022 budget and no mechanism for the supervision of the Prosecutor General had been adopted - and a lot was purely destructive (the return of paper ballots, for example). We will cover the main topics below, starting with the few concrete achievements:
A few real wins
The outgoing Parliament has several significant achievements to its name. The first, and one of the first laws passed - the Ukraine aid bill, which pressured the caretaker cabinet to supply the besieged nation with some vital military-grade supplies. It is unclear what exactly they were - and they definitely didn't include heavyweight tanks or artillery pieces, like the support granted by other Eastern European armies - but at least Bulgaria was partially absolved from being the only EU country that did not officially support Kyiv.
Also, MPs approved the purchase of another batch of 8 F-16 fighter jets for the Bulgarian Air Force from US producer Lockheed Martin, which should contribute to the renewal of the fighter jet fleet of the state. Another honorable mention was the simplification of the "blue card" procedure for hiring highly skilled foreign workers, which was long overdue.
In all three cases, the legislative initiatives were backed by the "Euroatlantic" coalition, consisting of GERB, WCC, Democratic Bulgaria, MRF and, at times, Bulgarian Rise, but opposed by Vazrazhdane and BSP.
Some clear losses
On the other hand, MPs passed some laws that will clearly backfire. The first was the return of paper ballots, thanks to the votes of the "paper ballot" coalition of GERB, BSP and MRF. The electoral rules' change will once again open the door to vote-buying and overcomplicate the ballot counting process for election commissions now that both machine voting and paper voting will need counting.
The other potentially dangerous bill that was approved - this time, with almost full support of all seven parties in Parliament - was that to make the government renegotiate the rules governing the adoption of the Recovery and Resilience mechanism with the European Commission. The vote effectively amounts to a call by all parties to halt the modernization process of the energy sector, as it would require the cabinet to ask for further derogations for the aging and polluting coal-powered plants in the Maritza basin. This could not only risk billions of EU funding - it could jeopardize the sustainable transition away from coal.
And missed opportunities - for justice reform and for euro adoption
For three months MPs could not pass vital laws, but in the last two weeks of the parliament's life a bunch of apparently lobbyist amendments appeared on their agenda.
For example, several parties used the opportunity to pass dangerous amendments in favor of one company when the Ministry of Finance proposed changes to the Insurance Code that would have adopted the "pay first, contest later" Green Card system for automobile incidents. They are important because they are related to Bulgaria's commitment to join the euro area. Between the two readings of the draft, however, GERB and Bulgarian Rise tabled their own addendum, which de facto defeats the idea. Their texts are identical, including the spelling mistakes in them, and in reality they mostly favor the leader in civil insurance - Lev Ins. Hence, the otherwise pro-European GERB party is about to derail Bulgaria's path towards the euro.
Another example was the last-minute scandalous amendments to the Forestry Act by MPs from MRF and Bulgarian Rise, which fortunately were not approved. They aimed to loosen the rules for logging in forests and revived the possible easing of construction of ski slopes and ski lifts in forests.
Also, MPs shamefully failed to pass stronger sanctions for domestic violence perpetrators, and meaningful support for victims.
Last, but not least, this Parliament shut down yet another attempt at meaningful judicial reform. At the beginning of last October, a day after the parliamentary elections, GERB leader Boyko Borissov told Democratic Bulgaria and WCC: "Give me your judicial reform and we will support it, if necessary for a constitutional majority."
Four months later, there is no judicial reform per se. Several minor laws related to the judiciary have been adopted in recent days, but the main laws - on the reform of the Prosecutor's office and the status of the Prosecutor General and on the reform of the anti-corruption agency, have remained for the next Parliament. This, even though they have passed the evaluation of the European institutions and are considered essential for the continuation of payments for the Recovery and Sustainability Plan.
Add to that some dubious laws - like the raised minimum wage just as the country will have to operate with a non-updated budget frame from 2022, and "free" textbooks for all pupils (effectively a subsidy for publishing houses) and you will get a legislative hotch-potch that is hard to swallow.
About 80 important bodies that are entrusted with the protection of citizens' rights, the protection of the public interest, the quality of governance and the prevention of abuse of power need new leadership. The procedures for the election of chairpersons and members are within the competence of the National Assembly, but in the four months of this Parliament, MPs failed to act.
In the last two weeks, MPs swiftly and ostentatiously sacked the chairmen of the National Health Fund and the one of the Court of Auditors, without appointing successors. Thus, in the coming months, until the 49th National Assembly begins its work, key bodies will continue to operate with expired mandates (some - over two years) and old leadership (many elected during the GERB government). The most important of them are the governor of the Bulgarian National Bank and two of his deputies, the head of the water and energy regulator KEVR, the head of the anti-corruption agency CIAF, two Constitutional judges and 11 members of the Supreme Judicial Council.