The resignation of Bulgaria’s prime minister Boiko Borisov after a wave of demonstrations against energy costs and corruption highlights many of the shortcomings of current austerity policies throughout the EU, however distinct the political problems faced by his and other governments in central and eastern Europe are.
Over four years his right-wing government reduced the budget deficit to less than 1 per cent, kept state debt below 20 per cent, froze rather than cut wages and pensions, and avoided a bailout. It thereby adhered to current orthodoxy, and so has had some success in attracting international investment.
But Bulgaria’s economic problems arise from its enduring poverty – a €400 per month average wage, eroding welfare system, and a demographic collapse through emigration and low birth rates which has reduced its population from nine to just over seven million in 20 years.
Informed observers attribute the demonstrations to this primary poverty and economic decline, sparked off by rising energy costs and other inflationary conditions, alongside an abiding disgust at corruption and government incompetence. Similar economic and political turbulence in Romania, Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia and Greece show they are more general problems in this part of Europe. A much greater commitment to employment-creating growth policies in the EU as a whole is required to tackle them effectively.
Specific to Bulgaria is the corruption associated with its political class. Mr Borisov served in the country’s special forces and was a bodyguard to successive rulers before becoming mayor of Sofia from 2005 to 2009. He came to power vowing to root out graft and raise standards of living, substantially outvoting the post-communist socialists. These promises have not been met, so the forthcoming elections, polls indicate, may give the socialists victory. By resigning Mr Borisov calculates he may recapture some of the ground he has lost.