The cabinet was able to report progress on key priorities for Bulgaria in its fifth month in office despite the extremely difficult circumstances in which it operated.
The cabinet successfully upheld its vision about the development in the energy sector, allocated resources to cope with inequalities and to promote the efficiency and development of the economy and agriculture. In the past two weeks, the cabinet pooled all resources to counter torpedoing moves conducted by institutions against fair local government elections.
Acting upon a report from the Civil Registration and Administrative Services General Directorate with the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works (MRDW), Prime Minister Acad. Nikolai Denkov ordered an unprecedented examination of resident registrations throughout the country that cause suspicions about so-called voting tourism. Premising on the findings arrived at, measures will be taken to prevent similar cases in the future.
The Ministry of Interior reported an over twofold increase of pretrial proceedings initiated upon whistle blows about violations of the electoral process compared to the 2019 local elections. A total of 156 individuals were detained and 3,307 warnings were served.
Inequalities decrease, living standards rise
The poverty line will go up by BGN 22 in 2024, which is a 4.4% increase over 2023. The government set it at BGN 526 and thus will improve the social protection for vulnerable groups. Therefore, some 800,000 individuals will count on higher financial support in 2024. The cabinet decided that the minimum salary should go up accordingly and become BGN 933 from 1 January 2024. This is a 19.6% increase or BGN 153 more than the present amount.
A total of 239,670 families were granted a sum of BGN 300 on a single-time basis. By the end of October, some 304,693 individuals and families were approved to be covered by the winter heating support scheme.
Slower inflation and lower prices of basic commodities
Deflation returned to Bulgaria driven mainly by the decreasing food prices. National statistics show that in September, on a monthly basis, the Consumer Price Indexes (CPIs) went down by 0.1% – the third drop below the zero this year. A slowdown is observed in annual inflation. In September 2023 prices were 6.3% higher than prices in the same period in 2022 – the lowest inflation since November 2021.
Though inflation continues to go down and income levels go up, the Ministry of Economy and Industry went into negotiations with retail chains on the Affordable to Customers Initiative to support the budget of households whose disposable income is insufficient to meet their primary necessities.
In the first eight months of the year, the government reported investments that exceed by over half a billion the investment in the same period in the preceding year and this is an increase of almost 34%. This is evident from the preliminary data released by the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB). The BNB calculation shows that in August alone the flow amounted to EUR 171.5 million as compared to a positive flow of EUR 113.5 million in the preceding year.
Meanwhile the Fitch Ratings agency confirmed Bulgaria’s long-term foreign and local currency credit rating at BBB with a positive outlook. The rating reflects the country’s plans for accession to the Eurozone that may lead to further improvements in the indicators of the country’s external position.
More money for Bulgarian schools and increased salaries at universities
Some BGN 30 million are paid to build new and to renovate existing kindergartens and schools and for playgrounds at 132 educational institutions. Another BGN 18 million were allocated for the implementation of national programs for the development of education and operational costs as were unspent funds that are now reallocated for the education and training of children and pupils and for support for equal opportunities and for personal development.
The minimum salary for the lowest academic rank – that of the assistant (tutor) – in the state-run higher educational institutions goes up by 20%, from BGN 1,500 to BGN 1,810, reckoned from 1 August 2023. The remuneration of scientists employed for the excellence programs for the development of European science VIHREN and VIHREN 2021 went up by 16%.
Incentives for high achievements and an avenue to sports for all
The Ministry of Youth and Sports (MYS) approved its excellence programs for next year. The sports federations will be able to apply with projects with deadline of submission 1 December 2023 and thus the athletes will continue their training for next year, timely and without a pause.
As per the new programs, that consider the achievements, the monthly allocation for the training of athletes is increased by 27%. The accompanying staffing program was likewise improved with a 15% increase of the salaries of coaches and their support teams. All the programs in “Sport for all” and “Sport for students” areas were updated and their financing next year will be approximately BGN 8 million. For the first time BGN 1,920,000 is an item on the MYS budget to train the medalists of the 14th Summer Deaflympics in 2022.
The MYS provided BGN 6 million to renovate five of the six sports schools that are under its jurisdiction. In recent years, the conditions for the training curricula of children progressively and chronically deteriorated and now the state is extremely alarming. BGN 10 million will be provided by the end of the year for the renovation and construction of sports facilities (state-owned and municipal) and the proposals may be submitted by 30 November to be evaluated within two to three weeks. An additional sum of BGN 50 million may be provided by the program if needed.
Better connectivity and control of newly built and repaired roads
Work in the Kalotina-Dragoman section of the Europe Motorway is finished and the section is open to traffic. The last section of the motorway that connects Slivnitsa and Sofia should be completed by the end of 2024 and thus ensure the long-delayed full-fledged transport connectivity between Bulgaria and Serbia.
The Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works (MRDPW) proceeded with the first inspection ever of roads that are in a warranty period and detected deviations from the quality standards in more than 50% of the sections. The Road Infrastructure Agency sent letters to the companies contracted for the repair work and the supervision of some 100 km of new and completely repaired roads that are still covered by a warranty and prescribed the immediate elimination of the detected faults.
MRDPW amendments to the Spatial Development Act provide for a tool that allows for public state or public municipal infrastructure projects to be completed and commissioned in the absence of a complete set of papers when the technology requirements are met. This will solve leftover problems concerning the legitimacy of a number of national projects, projects of national importance and projects of primary municipal importance without compromising their quality and good operational shape.
More efficient state-run companies
The salaries of all executive members of the boards of directors of enterprises in state-run companies that make up the State Consolidation Company (SCC) EAD were reduced by some 50% as of 1 October. Hospitality money was limited in all subsidiaries and after the structural changes, the number of the members of the boards of the enterprises went down by 15%.
The SCC is now working to devise a centralized system for the monitoring and control on the enterprises. The idea of the system is to monitor on a monthly basis definite targets: earnings, profit, efficiency of the profit, receivables and liabilities.
Given the remedial changes, the state-run company LB Bulgaricum announced, for the first time, an open bidding procedure to select raw cow milk suppliers for its production facility in Vidin. The company ceases to negotiate directly with specific companies and opts for an open and transparent bidding process.
A new joint institute between the Japanese Meiji and LB Bulgaricum will be launched in 2024 to engage in research and innovation in dairy production, the aim being to develop new products that are to make inroads into new markets.
The government protects the national interest in the energy sector
A start was given to the organization of the process to select a contractor for the design, construction and commissioning of Unit 7 of the Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) with the AP1000 technology. The cabinet approved also the construction of Unit 8 of the NPP. This includes negotiations with financial institutions for the extension of a loan and actions to increase the capital of the Kozloduy NPP New Units EAD with a cash deposit of up to BGN 500 million by the Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH) EAD. The forecast for Unit 7 is to go into operation in 2033.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Energy released for public consultation the process for financing power generating schemes – solar energy and wind energy – and the storage facilities. The main goal is to increase the percentage of clean energy in Bulgaria’s energy mix on the way to climate neutrality.
A total of BGN 730,000 will be spent to support 4,120 households that are customers of the District Heating Company Gabrovo in the coming winter season. The decision was taken by the Council of Ministers which approved a special program to address the many problems regarding heating that were left to the municipality.
The implementation is underway of a project “Energy efficiency in buildings” with beneficiaries a school and a kindergarten in Pernik under the program “Renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy security”. Projects within the same program with a target the energy efficiency of industrial operations are implemented in three companies in Plovdiv and Botevgrad.
Increased security for Bulgarian citizens: fewer committed crimes and more unraveled crimes
The crimes recorded in January-October 2023 show a 3.7% decrease over the same period in 2022. The crimes unraveled were 31,890 which is a 2.4% increase over the same period last year. Of these 3,473 were crimes involving drugs, which is a 6% increase. Registered crimes of driving a motor vehicle after the use of drugs decreased to become 3,598 as against 4,021 in 2022. Reported robberies decreased by more than 10.5% compared to the same period last year.
Healthcare with long-term vision in the interest of citizens
Medicines for the treatment of diabetes and antibiotics are prescribed only electronically from 16 October onwards. This makes sure that the whole process is transparent and that there is control on the frequency and improper use that is not prescribed by a medical doctor, that the grey area is dismantled and that the available medicines in stock are possible to track so that the needs of Bulgarian citizens are met primarily.
In the meantime, the Ministry of Health released for public discussion a draft amendment to the Medical Treatment Facilities Act to declare a short-term moratorium on the opening of new medical treatment facilities until May 2024 or until the updating of the National Health Map. This will ensure that the National Health Insurance Fund money will be allocated where there is the greatest need.
The bill provides, inter alia, for the transformation of the Medical Supervision Executive Agency by the separation of the administration, coordination and control of transplant surgery and their institutionalization in a Transplantation Executive Agency, planned to take effect on 1 February 2024.
In this context, the Regional Committee for Europe of the World Health Organization supported Bulgaria’s nomination to be a member of the WHO Executive Board in the period 2024-2027. After Bulgaria’s 29-year non-attendance of the WHO highest governing body, the nomination of Prof. Plamen Dimitrov, Director of the National Center of Public Health and Analyses (NCPHA), was the winner in rivalry with the nominations of two other EU member states – Spain and Cyprus.
Promotion and support for Bulgarian agriculture
State Fund Agriculture began the payment of subsidies to farmers under Campaign 2023, which this year relaxed the application rules that farmers are to comply with. Over BGN 31 million were paid under the intervention Transitional National Aid for Livestock Farming Unrelated to Production.
BGN 90,058,395 were transferred to 13,992 farmers under the scheme “Aid in the form of a rebate on the value of the excise duty on the gas oil used in primary agricultural production”. The disbursements make up 92.10% of the approved amount of state aid; the second disbursement is scheduled for early 2024.
Some BGN 4 million were paid to 78 farmers under the state aid to compensate farmers for adverse climate and almost BGN 180 million reached farmers under the program “Aid to support the liquidity of farmers to cope with the negative economic impact of the Russian aggression against Ukraine”. The aid budget for 2023 increased to BGN 426 million. The Council of Ministers approved additional funds that ensured a budget of a total of BGN 47.5 million under the de minimis program.
A budget of BGN 15 million was ensured prior to the start of the submission of applications for support for the construction of centers for the preparation for marketing and storage of fruit and vegetables. The aid is intended to incentivize the creation of short route supply chains, the modernization and automation of the gathering, preparation for the market and storage of fresh fruit and vegetables.
The budget of “Investment in Farms” under the Rural Development Program (RDP 2014-2020) went up by some BGN 70 million.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Food initiated changes in the Agricultural Land Ownership and Use Act concerning the prioritization of the provision of pastures from the state-owned and municipal land to local stockbreeders. Work began to draft a new regulation related to the Food Act to provide for farmers markets in order to guarantee the safety of the food offered on the market.
More opportunities for innovation and space technology
The Ministry of Innovation and Growth (MIG) launched the application process to implement innovations in Bulgarian companies with a budget of BGN 293.4 million. This is the first measure under the new Program “Competitiveness and Innovation in Enterprises” with a budget of approximately BGN 3 billion until 2027. The procedure is open to applicants that are micro, small and medium-sized businesses and companies that employ up to 499 employees from various sectors of the economy.
Bulgaria joined NASA’s Artemis Accords. The step is a key positive message to the country’s international partners and positions Bulgaria as an important strategic partner in the field of space technologies and the peaceful use of outer space.
The MIG and the European Investment Bank (EIB) signed an agreement on the preparation of an assessment of the structural appropriateness and effectiveness of the Bulgarian Development Bank EAD (BDB) and the Fund Manager of Financial Instruments in Bulgaria (Fund of Funds, FnF). The ultimate goal of the assessment that the EIB will make is to improve the performance of the two financial institutions and the coordination between them as well as the conditions for the attainment of the strategic goals and the implementation of the policies as assigned by the government. The project is funded by the European Union’s InvestEU.
Minimization of the risk of flood
The Ministry of Environment and Water made a presentation of the Water Management System of the Iskur River Basin. Its objective is to minimize the risk of flood and increase the efficiency of the different stakeholders that are directly involved in the water management process. The data will be communicated in real time and the forecasts will be tied to prevention and protection measures.