Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, who has governed Bulgaria for almost ten years, has made clear he will not resign following the European elections even though his GERB party (EPP) looks set to lose to his arch-rivals, the socialists (BSP), according to opinion polls.
Borissov, a former bodyguard with an obvious talent for politics, established his Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria – GERB party – in 2006.
He won the 2009 general elections and all subsequent polls, the only exception being the 2016 presidential election, in which the GERB candidate badly lost to Rumen Radev, supported by the BSP. Now GERB and the BSP are running neck and neck but polls steadily give a small edge to the socialists.
During Borissov’s years in power, the GERB have become entrenched in the country’s administration and in decision-making at all levels. Borissov’s governing style was to centralise decision-making to the extent that he personally decides on all important dossiers, even in cases where the institutions have the powers to do it themselves.
Bulgaria, the poorest country in the EU, badly needs reform. Borissov promotes infrastructure projects, highways in particular, saying they have the potential to change the country.
Bulgaria has capitalised on its EU presidency (first half of 2018), especially for having promoted the EU membership prospects of the Western Balkans. But while Borissov was busy internationally, domestic scandals have become increasingly frequent.
In particular, the so-called “apartment scandal”, which revealed that several high-ranking GERB politicians had bought real estate at suspiciously low prices, hurt support for the party, and for the first time, a series of polls put BSP ahead.
Another scandal, similar in kind, revealed that many well-connected people, including at least one deputy minister, had acquired so-called guesthouses built with EU money (the average grant being some €135,000), but used them for private purposes only.
To add insult to injury, the Commission has recently said it will not lift the embarrassing 12-year-old monitoring of Bulgaria under the so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM). The CVM has been in place since Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007, to make sure they continue judiciary reforms and fight against corruption.
Borissov had largely banked on the lifting of the monitoring as a major signal that his way of solving longstanding plagues in the country’s judiciary system has the blessing of the EU authorities.
Before the 2016 presidential election, Borissov had said he would resign in case the GERB lost, but then didn’t. This time, with the European elections approaching, he was more careful and his latest announcement makes it clear that such a move is out of the question.
Commentators in Sofia say Borissov still holds one trump card that might boost him just in time for the EU poll. Bulgaria is a candidate to host a Volkswagen car plant. Reportedly, the German car maker will choose where to build its new plant among Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania and Turkey.
In a recent TV interview, Borissov, who is on good terms with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, hinted he has obtained assurances that Volkswagen’s choice would be Bulgaria and that the official announcement will come in time for the European elections.