Sofia, Bulgaria — Bulgarian lawmakers on Wednesday approved a no-confidence motion against the country’s minority coalition government that could topple the centrist prime minister and further block Balkan countries’ efforts to join the European Union.
The centre-right opposition GERB party tabled the motion last week, accusing the government of mismanaging public finances and economic policy and failing to tackle soaring inflation. The vote of no confidence passed by 123 votes to 116 with no abstentions.
Immediately after the vote, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov pledged to continue fighting for reform – his main campaign pledge – in the EU’s poorest member state.
“We promise that one day we will have mafia-free Bulgaria, a prosperous and prosperous European country,” he said.
He then joined several thousand government supporters who converged near the parliament building in the capital Sofia.
Petkov, a Harvard-educated businessman, formed a four-party coalition government in December. He pushed for a resolution of a bilateral ethno-cultural dispute that has stalled North Macedonia’s and Albania’s EU membership bids. Bulgaria is a member of the EU and NATO.
Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine prompted the EU to consider accelerating its accession campaign in the Western Balkans to prevent Moscow from expanding its influence in the region.
Bulgarian President Rumen Radev will hold consultations with parliamentary parties that may try to form a new majority government. If he fails, he could install an interim cabinet before calling legislative elections, in what would be the fourth such vote in the country in just over a year.
Bulgaria blocked the application of neighboring North Macedonia to join the EU, and with it indirectly, that of Albania as well. The Bulgarian government insisted that North Macedonia formally recognize that its language has Bulgarian roots, recognize in its constitution a Bulgarian minority and cancel the “hate speech” against Bulgaria. North Macedonia said its identity and language were not up for discussion.
North Macedonia has held EU candidate status for 17 years and was given the green light in 2020 to begin membership talks, although no date has been set for the start of negotiations. Its chairman, Stevo Pendarovski, said last week that the delay had “weighed down” on the nation.
The European Commission has repeatedly promised that the future of six Western Balkan countries lies within the EU. Besides North Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia experienced delays due to divisions among member countries and some bilateral issues.
France, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said it was making a last-ditch effort to clear the way ahead of a Western Balkans summit scheduled for Thursday and Friday.
Clément Beaune, France’s minister for European affairs, said the proximity of war in Ukraine has forced the 27-nation EU to “re-energize” its process of expansion in the Balkans.
He said the French government had “activated and reactivated talks” with North Macedonia and Bulgaria, as well as other EU members.
“I’m hopeful we’ll be successful, but there’s still work to be done,” Beaune said.
Daniel Smilov, professor of political science at Sofia University, said Petkov, the Bulgarian prime minister, has been a “driving force” in pushing for a resolution of the dispute with North Macedonia and that a collapse of his government could blunt that effort. .
“It’s quite unfortunate for the situation in North Macedonia because we just don’t have a stable majority in parliament to give the green light to a deal,” he said. “And the French presidency has found a very reasonable agreement.”
The French agreement, which has not been officially made public, was sent to the two countries last week.
Petkov’s coalition had promised to clean up endemic corruption in the country. But the new crisis is now raising fears among some observers who believe it could lead to a rise in pro-Russian parties.
NATO member Bulgaria, which enjoys historically close relations with Moscow, has strongly supported Western sanctions against Russia since it launched its invasion on February 24. Petkov even fired his Defense Minister Stefan Yanev for calling the invasion a “special military operation”. Favorite description of the Kremlin for its war.
But observers believe the political instability will favor Bulgaria’s pro-Russian parties, including the far-right Revival party which holds 13 of the country’s 240-seat legislature.
Ruslan Stefanov, program director at the Center for the Study of Democracy, a Sofia-based think tank, describes Revival as a small pro-Russian “but very rogue and very vocal” party with a large social media presence that said that “Bulgaria should support Russia, not Ukraine.
“They have also been very…visible on the streets too…Russia has considerable influence in the country anyway, but new elections would strengthen the formal political representation of that influence,” he said, adding that this could “weaken the EU’s positions.
McGrath reported from Sighisoara, Romania. Samuel Petrequin in Brussels and Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia contributed.