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

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid