By Miroslav Ivanov
Published on 13 August 2019
The economy is booming, businesses are flourishing, the resorts are full of tourists, unemployment is shrinking, roads and motorways are being built, plants are “springing up like mushrooms”.
That is more or less the picture that Prime Minister Boyko Borisov likes to paint. As we know from his first term, Borisov is a naturally gifted painter, so he is good at colors.
What makes impression is that Borisov’s reading data is like the devil’s citing Scripture, i.e. he picks up what suits his purpose. His latest macroeconomic canvas presents a picture of Bulgaria’s unprecedented export boom.
“Never in its economic history has Bulgaria reported such a large amount of sales abroad within the span of six months,” Borisov said in Turkmenistan.
That came as continuation to the export topic, which has been the premier’s favorite in the past months. In January Borisov made another deep interpretation: “For the first time Bulgaria’s exports exceed imports. That is because plants are busy manufacturing and 100% of the products are exported. A couple of days ago I was in Dimitrovgtrad and those who have not seen the plant there should know that it manufactures the entire wiring for Mercedes. Hundreds of workers and in the end the products are put into a suitcase and shipped to Cologne. Or Finland. That is where the plants are.”
The images the premier creates are quite debatable. The truth is that the Bulgarian economy is really growing. Undoubtedly, that is very good.
Still, there is one important question that is hard to answer. But it is a question that is almost never asked in public.
Could it be/have been better? Bulgaria’s growth is part of the economic growth in Europe. The so-called economic successes are the result of that. Bulgaria fails to attract foreign investors. That is why so much focus is put on Volkswagen’s plant. When marketing itself as a destination for investors Bulgaria always has one advantage to promote: it is cheap. Low taxes, low labor costs, low social security expenses.
Bulgaria is steadily turning into an outsourcing destination. A destination of small subcontractor works which do not produce much value.
So, could it be/have been better? The banal answer is, yes, it always could be better. But most probably Bulgaria’s results would have been much better if the government had stopped just for a moment to hear the voice of business that radical measures are needed to ensure the rule of law.
Back in 2016 ten foreign chambers of commerce sent an open letter to the premier, the president, the chairman of the National Assembly and ministers.
“It is our opinion that the accumulated and unresolved problems in the judiciary are systematic and require a comprehensive approach in order to be eliminated, an approach which ought to be based on the principles of justice and the rule of law,” reads the letter of the organizations that represent companies with more than €20 billion investment in Bulgaria. According to them the resulting feeling that the reform is not happening leads to uncertainty among investors and the economic entities operating in the country. There is a decline in the willingness to invest in Bulgaria to the benefit of other countries.
The year now is 2019. But the words of the foreign businesses sound no less topical. Investors avoid Bulgaria. The rule of law is just a useless piece of paper. Businesses are seized and destroyed with the help of state institutions. Electronic government is just a joke and the leakage of the personal data of more than 5 million Bulgarians is no problem to the government.
The government systems in Bulgaria are full of loopholes that let all kinds of interests pass but the public ones.
Could it be/have been better? It could have. Maybe soon it will be no longer possible. There will be nothing left to be better.