Bulgaria: a minority government and a collapsing coalition. Typical vicissitudes of political life, it will be said. Except that this crisis has immediate repercussions and that on 23 June it wrecked the summit between the European Union and the countries of the Western Balkans. A similar crisis in a country long considered to be the most open to Moscow’s influence, located near Ukraine and Russia, has profound significance.
The crisis had been brewing for several weeks, but the vote of confidence in the Bulgarian parliament took place right on the eve of the European Council in Brussels, and left Prime Minister Kiril Petkov in the minority. Considered as a pro-European, the head of the government held the post for only eight months. Bulgaria now risks having to organize early legislative elections for the fourth time in the autumn.
The danger, in such a deleterious climate, is that of seeing the pro-Russian nationalist parties triumph, favored by the discontent created by the increase in energy prices after Moscow cut off the gas supply to Bulgaria: a clear signal in a moment where the gas weapon is also used in other European countries.
The coup de grace
The reasons for the tension that led to the fall of the ruling coalition are varied. There are relations with Russia, of course, but also those with North Macedonia (a Balkan neighbor whose candidacy for EU membership is blocked by Sofia) and the anti-corruption fight promised by the prime minister and unwelcome by major interests .
In February, Prime Minister Petkov relieved Defense Minister Stefan Yanev from office, accused of adopting the Kremlin-imposed expression – “special military operation” – when speaking of the war in Ukraine. Later Yanev created his own pro-Russian party opposed to the delivery of arms to Ukraine.
But the coup de grace came from a nationalist party called Itn (acronym for There is a People Like This) led by singer Stanislas Trifonov, who refused to support the prime minister’s decision to support Macedonia’s EU candidacy. North.
As part of its presidency of the Union, France had proposed a compromise on the historical and cultural disputes fueling the conflict between the two neighboring states, an agreement that seemed on the verge of being accepted. But the Itn party blew everything up. On 23 June, in Brussels, the leaders of the Balkans expressed all their bitterness and frustration.
In Europe, a single country can block any procedure. This is the consequence of the consensus rule which applies to most decisions within the EU. The rule was introduced to ensure that no state is imposed on decisions contrary to its basic interests, but over time it has become a tool of paralysis.
Viktor Orbán’s Hungary has specialized in blocking some decisions, standing alone against everyone else. An unstable Bulgaria or controlled by pro-Russian parties would represent yet another destabilizing factor.
Removing the unanimity rule would be a way to get around the obstacle, but a reform of this type is difficult to introduce as the risk is to undermine the cohesion of the Union. This is the price of democracy in a Europe where many parliaments do not have a clear majority. And the speech is certainly not limited to Bulgaria …
(Translation by Andrea Sparacino)