Still pro-EU, Bulgarian’s cast a vote of no confidence for the current government
Turnout was rather low (33%), compared to 51.3% in the national elections held in May 2013 and 37.5% at the 2009 European polls.
The EU remains popular – 55% continue supporting the country’s membership. However, there is more space for Eurosceptic arguments. Far-right ATAKA lambasts EU as harbinger of gay rights and promoter of pernicious neo-liberalism. Bulgaria without Censorship (BWC) campaigns under the slogan “Bulgaria deserves better” arguing membership hasn’t delivered to people’s expectation and faulting Brussels, together with incumbent elites on the centre-right and centre-left, for this failure.
The European elections are nothing short of a vote of (no) confidence for the current government led by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). It comes after a year of popular protests spurred by the controversial appointment of a media tycoon to head the national security agency, in the wake of national elections in May 2013. Both protestors and parliamentary opposition are calling for early general elections, possibly in the autumn. The EP vote is seen as instrumental to push this along, especially if the governing coalition takes a hit.
Russia and the crisis in Ukraine also became dominant themes in the campaign. BSP and its allies take an accommodational stance towards the Kremlin, and have worked hard to fast-track the South Stream project defying the European Commission. ATAKA launched its campaign against “Europederasty” in Moscow. The liberal centre-right Reformist Bloc, by contrast, has denounced Putin’s aggression and pushed for breaking free from Russian energy import’s stranglehold.
Winners and Losers
The big winner is the main opposition party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB, part of the EPP), which obtained, according to preliminary data* 32%.
The government suffered a resounding defeat as BSP finished second with 18.5%. Yet, the Movement of Rights and Freedoms, its coalition partner representing ethnic Turks and Muslims, kept a stable share of the vote at 14%.
Bulgaria without Censorship (soft Eurosceptic, populist) registered a success 10.7% and might send two representatives to the EP pending the final count.
The losers include the pro-Putin ultranationalists ATAKA (3%), pro-Russian, mildly nationalist ABV (4%), and the National Front for Bulgaria’s Salvation (nationalist, 3%) , all failing to reach the threshold for electing an MEP.
Hard Euroscepticism represented by ATAKA is in decline. Unlike the 2013 national elections the party failed to elect a MEP. In the other hand, BWC, the softer option, and its populist message, allegedly bankrolled by tycoon Tzvetan Vasilev, garnered between 9 and 11% which will give them 2 MEPs. ATAKA’s failure can be traced to its association with the current government and the split of the ultranationalist vote amongst several competing lists.
Taken together Eurosceptic parties, both mild and strong, account for roughly 15% of the vote.
Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski is not a key powerholder in the current government but rather a technocrat charged with implementing decisions taken by the parties in the governing coalition. BSP leader Sergei Stanishev, a protege of Martin Schulz and head of the Party of European Socialists, has strongly supported the centre-left Spitzenkandidat.
Elections will feed into political polarization at home and increase pressure for early general polls, possibly in the autumn. The BSP suffered an overwhelming defeat by the opposition, which might shake up the cabinet or even lead to a resignation. Tied up at home, Bulgaria’s government is unlikely to be pro-active in Brussels.
*54 percent of the vote counted
Read the views from the other European capitals here
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.