Mar 6, 2015 | 12:36 GMT

3 mins read

Bulgarian Resignations Come With Consequences

Bulgarian Resignations Come With Consequences

The resignation of a coalition-party minister signals that the Bulgarian government remains weak and divided as it works to enhance its role promoting a new European Energy Union and NATO's strategy in Eastern Europe. On March 5, just four months after a minority government formed in Bulgaria, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov nominated Deputy Prime Minister Rumyana Bachvarova as the country's new minister of the interior. Bachavarova is a member of Borisov's own Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party and replaces Veselin Vuchkov, also a top member of the center-right GERB who resigned a day earlier. Vuchkov reportedly stepped down over a dispute about the appointments for two key government posts. Such internal political disputes will limit Bulgaria's ability to achieve its foreign policy ambitions.

The conflict between Borisov and Vuchkov, the prime minister's longtime fellow GERB party member and political ally, centered around the appointments of Vladimir Pisanchev, head of the State Agency for National Security, and Svetozar Lazarov, the Interior Ministry's secretary. Both officials have been in office since 2013, when they were appointed by the previous Socialist-led government. Borisov wanted to allow the two officials to retain their posts, but Vuchkov disagreed. Nevertheless, after Vuchkov's resignation, Borisov announced that he would replace both officials, who ultimately resigned March 6.
The top post at the security agency is a significant one in Bulgaria. The agency, which has been under investigation for allegedly conducting illegal and politically motivated wiretapping, serves as Bulgaria's counter-intelligence body. The appointment of controversial media mogul Delyan Peevski to head the agency in 2013 led to mass protests that significantly weakened the Socialist-led government at the time and contributed to its resignation.

Bulgaria's coalition government was formed in early November after a monthlong negotiation for the establishment of coalition led by GERB, which won 32.67 percent of the popular vote and 84 seats in the country's 240-seat Parliament. GERB now governs in cooperation with the Reformist Bloc, a group of right-wing parties, and with the small Alternative for Bulgarian Revival. But because the coalition does not hold a majority of seats in Parliament, it relies on the support of the Patriotic Front, an alliance of two nationalist parties.

Bulgarian Parliamentary Election 2014

Bulgarian Parliamentary Election 2014

Divisions have plagued the coalition since its establishment. In early February, Borisov was forced to withdraw his nomination for a deputy governor position in Bulgaria's central bank because of the Reformist Bloc's objections. In late February, the deputy head of Alternative for Bulgarian Revival, Rumen Petkov, threatened to resign in opposition to the finance minister's plan to incur new debt.

The latest resignation indicates that Borisov faces not only a fractured minority government but also divisions within his own party. Moreover, GERB's popularity has fallen since the elections; polls indicate that only about 23 percent of voters would support the party if elections were held again.

Foreign Policy Implications

A weak and divided Bulgarian government will dampen its foreign policy ambitions because its leadership will be forced to focus its attention on overcoming internal challenges. Situated on the Black Sea, Bulgaria is a strategic NATO member state with close economic and historical ties to Russia. With the suspension of the Russia-led South Stream project, Bulgaria has become a fervent promoter of a European energy union. Bulgaria is also lobbying for a Southern Corridor project, to which end Borisov hosted Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev for energy talks March 5.
Bulgaria is also a key part of NATO's strategy to reinforce its eastern members amid the conflict in Ukraine. Bulgaria is one of the six countries set to host a new NATO command post, and it continues to cooperate closely with the alliance, most recently by participating in training with the U.S., Romanian and Turkish navies in the Black Sea.

Bulgaria's complex political infighting is unlikely to change its overall political position on critical issues such as closer cooperation with NATO or energy diversification, but a weak and divided government in Sofia will likely be constrained in pursuing ambitious foreign policy goals. Western governments have been engaging the government in Sofia to ensure that Bulgaria, a country highly dependent on Russia for energy, remains committed to Western sanctions and energy plans. But, in a country that has held elections three times over the past two years, further political instability would limit the government's ability to cooperate with the West on key energy and security issues.

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