Bulgaria’s third election lays the groundwork for lifting the veto, timing unknown
Bulgaria’s third elections this year took place on Sunday, producing a parliament that analysts say will finally be able to agree on a new government. For North Macedonia and Albania, the most important question is whether there will finally be a breakthrough regarding the Sofia veto that blocked the first intergovernmental conferences with the EU.
The winning list, “We continue to change” (PP), obtained around 26% of the vote, three points ahead of the country’s largest party, until recently, the GERB, led by former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.
The PP, formed only in September this year, joined the ranks of the new parties formed on the anti-corruption sentiment of the electorate. Its leader Kiril Petkov, Minister of Economy in the interim government appointed in April, announced cooperation mainly with other similar parties.
“As it stands, the most likely political reshuffle is that the ‘change parties’ (‘We continue the change’, ‘There is such a people’, the democratic Bulgaria coalition) will succeed in forming a government. coalition in case of support. by the Socialists (BSP). If this materializes, they will surely obtain the majority ”, assesses Maria Simeonova, coordinator of the Wider Europe program and of the Sofia office of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
A presidential election was also held, with incumbent President Rumen Radev almost scoring an outright victory, taking 49.45% of the vote. The second round against GERB-backed candidate Anastas Gerdzikov will still be required.
Radev was also involved in the dispute with North Macedonia, most recently at the Brdo summit in October, where he met Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. Commitments were made at the time to continue the dialogue on disputes regarding Macedonian history and language, as well as the position of the Bulgarian national minority, although no serious commitments were made.
Will it be easier to lift the veto now, with a new government potentially in place? Dimitar Bechev, a lecturer at the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, believes it is possible.
“The winner of the election, ‘We continue to change’, has more positive rhetoric towards North Macedonia than the GERB and BSP. I think they and their likely partners in democratic Bulgaria would probably want to get rid of the veto, but they have to choose their battles and this one is probably not worth it, from a domestic political point of view. Kiril Petkov will have other priorities – rule of law, EU recovery plan, COVID, ”said Bechev, member of the Advisory Group on Balkan Policy in Europe (BiEPAG), for the European Western Balkans.
The first opportunity to lift the veto will be at the General Affairs Council scheduled for December 14, with EU affairs ministers to adopt negotiating frameworks for North Macedonia and Albania. Maria Simeonova believes that there is a scenario where this is possible.
“The scenario evolves around President Roumen Radev, which is an important factor not to be overlooked. Radev has appointed the current interim government which will function until a regular party government is formed in the new parliament. Radev won almost half of the vote on Sunday and is set to clinch a second term. His role has turned out to be quite important over the past few months. Radev will have his say until an interim government is in place, so a small window for a possible lifting of the veto is created between the November 21 presidential runoff and the December 14 General Affairs Council meeting. Simeonova said.
If, on the other hand, the Bulgarian veto persists after December 14, the new government will inevitably have to settle the matter in 2022.
“This is a likely scenario due to the short time available for the parties to reach a coalition agreement and urgent internal issues pending such as the future of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan, the management of the health crisis, as well as the negotiations for the 2022 state budget, ”says Simeonova.
A new approach
Even if the lifting of the veto ends up taking more time, a reformist Bulgarian government can still apply a more pragmatic approach which can gradually soften the negative discussions accumulated between the two parties, adds Maria Simeonova.
“The economic profile of Petkov and (the co-founder of PP Assen) Vassilev was reflected in their party’s position on the start of negotiations for North Macedonia’s accession to the EU. It has been repeated several times that Bulgaria and North Macedonia should establish working groups composed not only of historians but of academics, experts in culture, infrastructure and trade. With a reformist government in Bulgaria, the tone of the negotiations will be more constructive, says Simeonova.
She added, however, that this approach will nevertheless take some time as the issues between Bulgaria and North Macedonia are pending and it is well known that the framework position of the Bulgarian Parliament enjoys wide social support.
Kiril Petkov described his approach to solving the Macedonian question in an interview for EURACTIV taken a week before the election, stressing that in order to solve problems historians are not enough and great businessmen must also be included.
“It is not enough once every six months to throw stones on the other side of the village and wait for the stones to be thrown back. We want to see every two months what has been achieved, with KPIs, with an analysis of the obstacles, with a maximum of communication, to have real negotiations, which we did not have before ”, he said. declared.
Georgi gotev, editor-in-chief of EURACTIV.fr and the author of the interview with Petkov, emphasizes for Western European Balkans that he did not, however, provide a deadline for a possible lifting of the veto.
“My point of view is that Petkov, who is very close politically to Radev, will not do anything unusual or unexpected vis-à-vis North Macedonia. Most likely, he will personally follow the progress of bilateral talks, ”Gotev said.
While the phased approach might be the preferred option of the new Bulgarian government, it will always be at odds with the growing disappointment at the blocking of progress expressed increasingly loud and clear by the leaders of North Macedonia and the United States. ‘Albania.