The fourth month in office of the government is to be noted for the negotiations with representatives of several sectors that are important for Bulgaria and that were ignored by the governments in the past 15-20 years, in addition to the intensive work on key projects that the caretaker governments neglected at the risk of huge losses. Despite the fierce abuse of the people’s fears in a pre-election setting, the cabinet has shown determination to deal with the problems that it inherited and has demonstrated a constructive will to maintain dialog so as to achieve tangible progress and to push ahead processes that would have a lasting positive effect on people’s lives.
Wage increase, GDP growth and inflation decline
After a year of skyrocketing inflation, the direction of the curve has reversed. This is to be concluded from official data released by the National Statistical Institute (NSI).
The annual inflation for August this year was 7.7% compared to August 2022, falling below 8% for the first time in the past year and a half. In August 2022, inflation ran up to 17.7%. The comparison of the average salary in the second quarter (Q2) of 2023 over Q2 2022 shows that today we are paid BGN 227 more. Again, according to NSI data, in Q2 2023 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 1.9% compared to Q2 2022.
Bulgaria catches up with the delay on the RRP and expects over EUR 1.4 billion from the Commission
The government submitted a request to the European Commission for a sum of over EUR 1.4 billion that the country expects as a second payment under the Recovery and Resilience Plan (RRP). This became possible following the implementation of 30 measures in the past three months wherewith Bulgaria has caught up and already meets 94% of all requirements that it should have met before the end of last year.
In this way the Denkov-Gabriel cabinet practically has achieved one of its governance priorities – the completion of the structural investments and reforms laid down in the RRP so that the government can cope with the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities of the upcoming Green and Digital transitions. Dealing with the delay of the RRP opens to Bulgaria the gateway to more European funds that will amount to BGN 9 billion approximately for national investments from the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF).
Progress to ensure just energy transition following intensive dialog with all stakeholders
The government approved the Territorial Just Transition Plans for the energy sector and sent them to the European Commission on 30 September. This is the first resolute step that the government made at last so as to reopen negotiations with the Commission and obtain billions to fund several programs that will help people in the coalmining regions of Stara Zagora, Pernik and Kyustendil.
In 2022, due to the caretaker government’s negligence, Bulgaria lost the chance to receive EUR 100 million for the reason of the failure to submit the Territorial Plans within the time limit. By the end of November 2023, the cabinet will draw up a draft of Bulgaria’s energy strategy until 2030 with a horizon until 2050, in parallel with the update of the Integrated Energy and Climate Plan. This is planned as part of the vision for sustainable development of the sector and tallies with the demands of the trade unions that represent the people employed in the energy sector.
Within just four weeks, the government managed to attract the interest of investors who have already expressed interest in investing over BGN 3.5 billion in the development of new industries and the creation of more than 4,300 jobs in the regions of Stara Zagora, Kyustendil and Pernik. The invitation to large potential investors remains valid and several ministries have made the priority of their work to attract businesses that will transform the coalmining regions into centers of modern and booming industries.
Stronger resolute steps towards digitalization and less burden on students, parents and teachers
The digitalization of Bulgarian education continues. To unburden students and parents, paper textbooks from the first to the seventh grade have been uploaded in a PDF format in the Digital Backpack Platform.
The medical certificate for student absence will be in an electronic form. “Thus we will make it easier for the teachers and will fight absenteeism and falsified enrolment,” Prime Minister Acad. Nikolai Denkov said. In the first 15 days since the school year opened, some 40,000 е-medical certificates have been issued with an average of over 5,000 certificates generated per day.
New developments mark the national external assessment exams in the 4th, 7th and 10th grade. At the end of the new school year, the students who have not been able to sit for them due to a medical or other serious problem will have the right to do so on an additional date for the respective subject.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy reported that some 215,000 one-time benefits had already been granted to students in the first, second, third, fourth and eighth grade. The single lump sum of BGN 300 is split into two payments and the second half is paid in March only on the condition that the child continues to attend school. Applications for such support can be lodged until 15 October 2023.
The Advisory Council for Vocational Education and Training at the Ministry of Education and Science (MES) approved a Strategic Vision for the Development of Dual Education in Bulgaria until 2030. The Strategy recognizes the leading role of the businesses in in-situ training and relies on a proactive public awareness campaign.
The minimum university student grant of BGN 85 became BGN 120 and the maximum of BGN 180 became BGN 200. To this end, an allocation of BGN 6 million is planned until the end of this year. BGN 100 million has been earmarked for the renovation of student hostels.
An increase was ensured for the minimum salary of the lowest academic rank in the state higher educational institutions: it went up from BGN 1,500 to BGN 1,810 reckoned from 1 August 2023. Additional BGN 16 million will be provided to 33 state higher educational institutions where 12,436 are employed as academic staff, including 2,401 assistants. It is expected that the increased salaries will encourage more and more young people to apply for teaching positions following a competitive selection and this in turn will lead to rejuvenation and academic career development.
Preparations for fair and transparent elections
Five ministries are engaged in the preparations for fair and transparent local elections scheduled for 29 October 2023: the Ministry of Interior (MoI), the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of e-Government.
As of now, the Ministry of Interior is examining 147 whistle blows regarding the elections: 82 of these report cases of vote buying and 50 report other violations of the electoral legislation. There are reports of corporate vote. Ten pre-trial proceedings have been initiated and detention has been resorted to.
Together against disasters
On 4 and 5 September 2023, a record rainfall caused a state of emergency in the Bourgas region. The immediate response of all institutions was of key importance for the successful evacuation of people from the region and for the minimization of the damage. In full synergy, the institutions reestablished the connectivity between the communities and the service for the households within less than 48 hours.
Following an urgent public procurement tender, a contract was signed on 15 September to build a new bridge to replace the destroyed one on the same location of the Tsarevo-Ahtopol road. On 27 September, the Tsarevo-Ahtopol temporary byway was opened for two-way traffic for all types of vehicles.
Emergency operations were performed during the disaster to prevent the collapse of the walls of the dams Poturnashki and Hadji Yane. The underpinning work functioned as appropriate and the dams helped reduce the water flow to the ravines and the surface runoff to the village of Lozenets.
The government is writing a detailed analysis report on the causes for the significant damage caused by the disaster and soon will announce the measures for more effective prevention.
To improve the management of the response to natural disasters, a strategic cross-border project between Bulgaria and Serbia was launched. The project is funded under the INTERREG V-A Bulgaria-Serbia Program for cross-border cooperation 2021-2027 with over EUR 7.2 million.
Institutions unite to fight domestic violence
The crisis centers for victims of violence will be able to put up an additional number of 453 while the National Police General Directorate coordinates the operation of police officers who are in charge of domestic violence. Central police statistics show an increase of the pre-trial proceedings: in the first eight months of 2022, they were 853 and in the same period of 2023, they were 1,383.
Proactive healthcare policies
The Ministry of Health (MoH) updated the National Health Strategy 2030. This is a major step in the development of the system and its transformation in keeping with the people’s needs and with a focus on prevention, diagnostics and therapy combination. The new strategy includes specific policies designed to improve maternal and child health and the infant wards; the fight against cancer; the treatment of cerebrovascular diseases, mental health and psychiatric care; encouragement of organ donation and of transplant surgery.
The cabinet approved additional funding for 29 regional hospitals. The allocation of BGN 20 million for the whole year 2023 will be subject to clearly defined criteria: the maintenance of their capacity to provide medical aid in emergencies, disasters and accidents, mainly for the payment of staff salaries and operational costs for the supply of water, electricity and heating.
For the first time in the past two years, increased interest in vaccination is observed in Bulgaria. Following the MoH proactive policies and public awareness campaign over 17,000 individuals were vaccinated within a week against the new COVID variant. The anti-flu vaccination likewise enjoys higher interest while over 300,000 doses are provided free of charge this year.
Within only ten days of the start of the campaign “Yes! For Life” there were four organ donation situations; they have been 17 since the beginning of the year. That is a 20% and more increase over last year and gives a chance for life to 42 individuals who underwent transplantation surgery.
Easy way to sport for all and encouragement of record achievements
Over 100,000 children have the opportunity to play sports this school year within 237 projects of sports organizations under seven programs and activities of the Ministry of Youth and Sports (MYS). In addition, the funds for the 11th and 12th grade have been increased in the new school year so that students can play and compete in individual sports, not just in team sports, of the school games. The allocation amounts to over BGN 1 million that is a 50% increase over last year.
The MYS allocated additionally some BGN 3.2 million to twenty federations for their training for Olympic Games.
Adequate decisions to support Bulgarian agriculture
Following a multilateral constructive dialog, the government signed a memorandum with the Bulgarian farmers that is satisfactory to the needs of both domestic agribusiness and processing industry. The conditions and terms of the agreement tally with the country’s commitment to lift the ban on Ukrainian grain imports.
The Minister of Agriculture and Food Kiril Vatev informed the Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine about the memorandum signed which provides for a ban on sunflower seed imports from Ukraine until the end of November 2023. As a result of this contact, the Ukrainian Minister made a commitment to ban the export to Bulgaria of sunflower seed, rape, wheat and maize until 30 November 2023. After that, if Bulgaria requests so, the four crops are subject to licensing regime.
Prime Minister Acad. Nikolai Denkov and Minister Kiril Vatev reiterated their commitment to work jointly with the sector of agriculture so as to continue fostering an environment offering better opportunities to supply more Bulgarian products to the Bulgarian citizens.
After the ban on imports from Ukraine was lifted, state aid to agriculture increased and reached BGN 426 million.
In addition, BGN 22.1 million were allocated under a scheme termed “Compensation to victims of climate change disasters where the crop failure can be attributed to circumstances that can be seen as equivalent to natural hazard-induced disasters”.
Steady and transparent financing of the regions and road infrastructure
Agreements are now signed on BGN 67 million and more with 54 municipal administrations on additional financing of projects such as municipal roads, streets and water supply and sewerage infrastructure through the budget of the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works. The expansion begins of twenty first-class road sections to reach the expressway parameters. The budget of the Road Infrastructure Agency for next year makes a priority the contract of preliminary designs and detailed development plans (DDPs) for these sections.
Visible progress in implementation of aerial emergency medical service
The first part of the ground equipment of the aerial emergency medical service is already in Bulgaria. By the end of the year, Bulgaria will have a certified aviation operator for the aerial emergency medical service. The first emergency service helicopter has been plated with a serial number and is expected to land in Bulgaria in January 2024. The first group of six pilots who are to fly the helicopters is now in Italy to receive training.
Further major steps to regain confidence in Bulgaria on the way to Schengen
The European Commission terminated the monitoring on Bulgaria and Romania by the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism. This indicates that the Commission and the European countries’ leaders recognize Bulgaria’s progress in the area of the rule of law and acknowledges the reforms that our country has carried out.
The President of the Commission Ursula von der Leyen and the Vice President of the Commission Margaritis Schinas expressed their support for Bulgaria and their expectation that this year the Council of the EU will take a decision to make Bulgaria and Romania full members of the Schengen area. The President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola likewise expects a positive decision within the Spanish Presidency. Many leaders and foreign ministers of EU member states side with Bulgaria and Romania.
Between 1 January and 30 September 2023 the border police intercepted over 158,000 attempted entries into the Republic of Bulgaria by illegal immigrants and that is a 37% increase over the same period last year when the intercepted attempts numbered 115,000. It is possible that some of the individuals who returned to the Republic of Türkiye on their own will, as confirmed by Bulgarian border patrols, might have made repeated attempts to enter into Bulgaria. Over 12,000 illegal migrants were detained inland.
According to the updated Frontext report, currently the Mediterranean route, not the so-called Balkan route, is subjected to the strongest migration pressure. This fact is to be attributed, inter alia, to the significantly increased efficiency to counteract illegal migration and to intercept a great number of the attempts of illegal migration at the very border.
Bulgaria’s progress in rule of law
The Ministry of Interior (MoI) and the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) signed an agreement to strengthen cooperation with the European Delegated Prosecutors (EDPs) in Bulgaria on EPPO investigations. Pursuant to the agreement, the Ministry will reinforce the EDPs in proceedings with experts, security, transport, logistics and financing.
A workgroup at the Ministry of Justice works to map out specific measures intended to give greater transparency to government advertising in the media. Some of the focal points of the workgroup experts are as follows: guaranteed transparency; problems with SLAPP cases against journalists, NGOs, civil society activists and others; improvement of the media ownership register that is maintained by the Ministry of Culture.
The government signed a memorandum of understanding between Bulgaria and the United States to counter foreign distortion of information. Bulgaria became an officially participating country in the European Center of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats.
The Minister of Justice Atanas Slavov justified for the Venice Commission the main objectives of the bill to amend the Constitution as proposed by 166 Members of Parliament (MPs). The Venice Commission commends and encourages the division of the now one-chambered Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) as a step that it has been recommending for quite a long time. The opinion on the change of the quotas in the SJC is likewise positive and the proposed decision concerning the Prosecutors Council is supported in principle.
Resolute measures against road bloodbath
The laboratory for chemical toxicological analyses at the Military Medial Academy (MMA) will be able to triple the blood tests of drivers to detect drugs and alcohol and thus significantly speed up the handling. The increase of the capacity of the laboratory will be paid from the national budget. Additionally, six more lab assistants will be trained and will work in three shifts round the clock. Thus, the newly arrived blood samples will be analyzed as fast as possible along with the approximately 900 samples that are overdue and have piled up since the end of April of this year.
The analysis of the Criminology Research Council will be finalized in October this year. It will be about the trends in and the prevention of crime on the road. The Ministry of Justice will draft amendments to the legislation on the basis of this analysis.
Innovation and economic growth
More than a thousand business meetings between different companies and projects in the pipeline of Bulgarian companies that operate or form start-up partnerships in Greece are just some of the results scored by the Bulgarian participation in the 87th Thessaloniki International Trade Fair. This year Bulgaria was a guest of honor at the Fair and showed there a new economic profile with high technology, tourism and culture.
Bilateral relations with the Port of Thessaloniki expand, the aim being new investments in Bulgaria. This was agreed by the Minister of Economy and Industry Bogdan Bogdanov and the Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Thessaloniki Port Authority Thanos Liagkos.
Bulgaria is the first country in Eastern Europe to join ELLIS (European Laboratory for Learning and Intelligent Systems) which is the most prestigious European network for the development of the Artificial Intelligence (AI). Prime Minister Acad. Nikolai Denkov officially launched the partnership together with Prof. Martin Vechev, the “architect” of the Institute for Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence and Technology (INSAIT) and Prof. Anastas Gerdjikov, Rector of the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”.
In September 2023, the Government finally won the suit for the Plovdiv Fair. The Sofia Court of Appeal confirmed the ruling of the lower Sofia City Court that the Municipality of Varna shall not be free to transfer its International Plovdiv Fair shares to other corporate entities. The decision is final and not subject to appeal. The case was filed by the Minister of Economy and Industry Bogdan Bogdanov.