Let's Talk about Debt, Baby!

Novinite Insider » OPINIONS | Author: Angel Petrov |February 20, 2015, Friday // 14:10| Views: | Comments: 0
Bulgaria: Let's Talk about Debt, Baby! The opposition was quick to stage a protest against the new debt proposal. Photo by BGNES

"To say they will convince coalition partners... this absurd. It means they haven't spoken until now."

Listening to Volen Siderov, a controversial Bulgarian nationalist leader, is sometimes more than just a way to get stunned at loads of anti-NATO, anti-EU, anti-government rhetoric. The quotation above is what I consider a good example. Siderov was actually referring to GERB's failure to coordinate their new debt proposal with their partners in the ruling coalition.

Conservative Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) announced earlier in February that Bulgaria had to take on some BGN 16 B, or EUR 8 B, in debt to both finance its deficit and secure the money needed for payments on existing liabilities. The proposal was raised, and is most staunchly defended, by Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov, and other GERB members followed suit.

The idea propmted a vehement response among most other parties in Parliament, with the exception of GERB's junior partner in the cabinet, the right-wing loose coalition called Reformist Bloc. It was precisely the Reformist Bloc, alongside a number of experts known for their links to its parties, that in 2014 was the fiercest critic of the formerly ruling socialist-liberal axis when it wanted to raise just BGN 1 B make payments on a previous debt.

Leaving the RB aside, no other government-affiliated parties are quite certain what the money will be spend on. Left-wing Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (ABV), led by President Plevneliev's predecessor Georgi Parvanov, is adamant that the new debt should not be approved by Parliament, a step required under the law. ABV has one minister in the government, Ivaylo Kalfin, and he has often come under fire from the socialist opposition (of which most ABV members were once part) for failing to implement measures that are "social" enough, despite having made it into Parliament with a promise that ABV will offer an alternative to the traditional socialist party.

The Patriotic Front (PF), a nationalist coalition backing the government, is also reluctant to throw its support. Even though many PF decisions whether or not to support have been taken ad hoc in the past three months, the alliance evidently sees it as too risky to approve the imposition of such a burden on citizens. Patriots rose to power by promising to improve people's everyday lives through radical reform, and an approach reasserting the status quo would not be in their favor.

As debates over the debt began, the opposition chose to voice its indignation using non-parliamentary means: a protest was staged outside the National Assembly organized by both the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and nationalist Ataka.

What strikes, however, is neither the clash of ideas and the political (and electoral) controversy displayed by most of these parties nor GERB's own failure to implement its policies even after Prime Minister Boyko Borisov promised he would resign if the debt is not approved.

It is the fact that despite assurances, GERB has not changed its approach.

Even if a document approving the new foreign borrowing is passed by Parliament, nothing can make up for the fact that the conservatives had not informed their partners before coming up with the proposal - and at the beginning, even reformists were somewhat reluctant.

Minister Goranov is now determined to hold a "debate" with coalition partners, and this is what he has been trying to do in the past few days, to no avail; but even convincing them will not make up for the fact that nobody knew about the need for as big an amount of money when the 2015 budget is being drafted.

Back then, a huge effort was put in by lawmakers who held a 17-hour, marathon sitting, days before Christmas, to pass the budget act. Back then, nobody, except presumably GERB, was aware of the looming deadlines to make current payments. In effect, nobody even mentioned them to raise the question: "Where will we get the money from?"

Bulgarian politicians are still failing to discuss matters among themselves. When time has come to take action, they tend to make eleventh-hour announcements, catching both colleagues and citizens off-guard, and the reaction is far from positive.

For years, there has been a stereotype for GERB about being a unilateral decisionmaker. The party now insists that, forced by the new political environment, it has changed. But has it?

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Tags: GERB, Vladislav Goranov, PF, Reformist Bloc, ABV, debt, BSP, protest
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