News / Europe

Bulgaria Parliament Readies Power Price Cuts

Thousands of demonstrators shout slogans protesting high utility bills and energy-sector monopolies, Sofia, Bulgaria, Feb. 24, 2013.
Thousands of demonstrators shout slogans protesting high utility bills and energy-sector monopolies, Sofia, Bulgaria, Feb. 24, 2013.
Reuters
Bulgaria's parliament moved to cut electricity prices on Wednesday, an attempt to defuse public anger that had forced the government out, which risked undermining confidence in the economy.
 
Adding to a sense of political limbo in the European Union's poorest state, outgoing Prime Minister Boiko Borisov has been hospitalized with high blood pressure before an interim government has been appointed to take the country to early elections.
 
Bulgaria's outgoing Prime Minister Boiko Borisov at EU council headquarters, Brussels, Feb. 7, 2013.Bulgaria's outgoing Prime Minister Boiko Borisov at EU council headquarters, Brussels, Feb. 7, 2013.
x
Bulgaria's outgoing Prime Minister Boiko Borisov at EU council headquarters, Brussels, Feb. 7, 2013.
Bulgaria's outgoing Prime Minister Boiko Borisov at EU council headquarters, Brussels, Feb. 7, 2013.
Six years after joining the bloc, Bulgaria trails far behind other members. Its justice system is subject to special monitoring and its citizens are excluded from the passport-free Schengen zone because of other members' concerns on corruption.
 
Many protesters say they are angry with Bulgaria's whole political class, causing more uncertainty over the upcoming election, and government concessions raise the risk of a widening deficit and market pressure.
 
After demonstrators attacked power company offices and three people set themselves on fire, parliament passed a law allowing electricity prices to be cut by a promised 8 percent from March. That will further hurt electricity distributors — Czech companies CEZ and Energo-Pro and Austria's EVN — which are already the focus of protesters' ire.
 
"The situation is tragic. We need a radical a change — people took to the streets due to total misery," said Sergei Stanishev, leader of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP).
 
Borisov — a former bodyguard to communist dictator Todor Zhivkov — resigned last week after two weeks of sometimes violent protests by tens of thousands accusing the government of being a "Mafia" due to rampant corruption and its failure to improve living standards.
 
Borisov's departure has failed to fully calm voters in a country where the average monthly wage is 400 euros ($520) and pensions are less than half that amount. Demonstrations have continued on a smaller scale, though large protests are planned for the weekend.
 
The outgoing premier has even risked a diplomatic row with the Czech Republic and EU by threatening to withdraw CEZ's license, and prosecutors are investigating the power companies' prices and other possible malpractices.
 
The electricity distributors say they have done nothing wrong.
 
Borisov remains in office until an interim government is appointed, probably next week, to hold the reins until elections, which are expected in May. Hospital officials said he was admitted with hypertension earlier this week but should be discharged later in the day. A cabinet meeting due on Wednesday was postponed due to the prime minister's absence.
 
Borisov's GERB party is now running neck-and-neck with the BSP and neither is expected to win a majority. Whichever coalition forms a government, it will be under significant pressure to spend more.
 
Low living standards
Borisov has maintained tight fiscal discipline and brought the budget gap down to 0.5 percent of gross domestic product, important to maintaining confidence in Bulgaria's currency peg to the euro.
 
But living standards remain less than half the EU average and public anger spilled over when bills for electricity, which many people use for heating, suddenly rose in cold weather following a 13-percent hike last July.
 
Parliament changed the law to allow regulators to alter prices more often than the current once a year, which would allow the cut promised by Borisov a day before he resigned.
 
Even though the government will only see a slight fall in sales tax revenues, its concessions mean the next administration will be under pressure to further loosen the purse strings.
 
"The changes introduce a great deal of uncertainty on the market," said Nikola Gizmo, head of Bulgaria's photovoltaic energy association.
 
The attacks on the distributors may also deter investors by highlighting the risks of business in Bulgaria.
 
The economy is only slowly recovering, with growth of about 1.4 percent expected this year, which does little to raise living standards.
 
"We need some new faces that have the energy and desire to revive the current parties," said Konstantin Haralampiev, 47, an entrepreneur in Sofia.

You May Like

Multimedia US Nurse ‘Cured of Ebola,’ NIH Says

Nina Pham, Texas nurse who treated first Ebola patient in US, received no experimental drugs; WHO expects vaccine surge in 2015 More

Video Islamic State Militants Encroach on Baghdad

Iraqi capital not under ‘imminent threat,’ US military says, amid worries about foothold More

Video Hong Kong Protesters Focus on Holding Volatile Mong Kok

Activists say holding Mong Kok is key to their movement's success, despite confrontations with angry residents and police More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid