Bulgaria: Ski Policy Flip-Flop

Views on BG | June 21, 2012, Thursday // 14:40

from The Financial Times (blog)

by Andrew MacDowall

Rapid backtracking on a ski development law appears to be the latest incidence of the Bulgarian government's tendency to make policy on the hoof.

The impression that legislation is poorly conceived and executed is frustrating ordinary Bulgarians and investors alike.This week, officials were locked in negotiations with lobbyists over changes to the country's Forestry Act after President Rosen Plevneliev vetoed amendments that would have made ski resorts much easier and cheaper to develop. The veto was welcomed by Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, whose own government had passed the amendments, and who had previously argued they would greatly benefit Bulgaria's winter tourism industry, an important earner for the EU's poorest member state.

Plevneliev's veto of legislation passed by his own parliamentary allies (the president is widely seen as Borisov's Medvedesque placeman) and the PM's apparent volte-face came after street protests by environmental activists. The protestors claim that the changes would allow unscrupulous businessmen to damage the environment and areas of natural beauty with poorly-regulated ski developments – something that has already happened in some parts of the country, despite existing legislation.

This is far from the first time that the Borisov government has got itself into a legislative tangle or found itself backing down from its policy positions. In January, it issued a ban on "fracking" for shale gas and cancelled an exploration permit issued to US energy firm Chevron following similarly noisy but not particularly well-attended protests. The following month, Bulgaria backed down from ratifying the international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), also after public protests, this time from Bulgarians keen to retain unlimited access to pirate material on the internet.

In April 2011 last-minute provisions were inserted into a new renewable energy law that created restrictive conditions for Bulgaria's promising wind power sector, causing some investors in the sector to put projects on ice. It may now be more difficult for the government to meet its stated renewables targets.

Borisov has also blow hot and cold over other energy projects including the Belene nuclear power plant- finally scrapped earlier this year – and the proposed rival South Stream and Nabucco gas pipelines, respectively backed by Russia and the EU.

Some see the government's responsiveness to public opposition as quite positive, given Bulgaria's history of totalitarianism and, more recently, public apathy. But critics say susceptibility to both street protestors and shady lobbyists is less healthy, and the resulting confusion over policy is damaging the country.

"The government's changes of opinion on controversial issues mainly results from the way it creates its regulations – without proper public consultations, without any reasonable arguments and facts supporting the draft laws," Svetla Kostadinova, executive director of the Institute for Market Economics, a Sofia-based think-tank, told beyondbrics. "This in turn creates room for lobbying and leads to an uncertain environment for investors, both Bulgarian and foreign. They cannot plan well in advance and they hold back from taking action. The dilemma forest preservation-tourism development will always be there and that is why we need a wide debate and a focused dialogue based on facts, numbers and options for actions."

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Tags: Forestry Act, protest, ski resorts, tourism, environment
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