Bulgarian prime minister quits following mass protests over electricity bills
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov resigned today (20 February)
following boisterous public protests in the capital and several other
cities over the price of electricity.Just hours after he had declared his intention to continue as
prime minister, Borissov told the Bulgarian Parliament that he was
stepping down and that the government as a whole would resign by
“The people gave us the power, today we return it to them,” he told the assembly.
Borissov said he had no intention of participating in a caretaker government.
“Yesterday we did a maximum to satisfy the demands of the
protestors. From now on there is nothing we can do to help them,” he
Protests against high electricity bills began last weekend and
grew in the days since, with TV coverage showing chaotic scenes. Several
demonstrators were reportedly arrested.
Borissov sought to defuse the tension by announcing at a press
conference at midday on Tuesday that the Czech utility ČEZ, which
controls power distribution in Western Bulgaria, would be stripped of
Bulgaria’s power distribution market is divided into three
regions, controlled by Czech firms ČEZ and Energo-Pro and Austria's EVN
Borissov also said that the price of electricity would be reduced
by 8% from 1 March. Normally the power regulator is sets the price of
electricity. The European Commission has recommended that the regulator
in Bulgaria should be fully independent.
The statements by Borissov failed to defuse the tensions and demonstrators began calling for his resignation.
Many carried banners calling Borissov a mafia boss and burned his
portrait. Several people were wounded in clashes with the police.
Bulgarians blame Borissov for the decline of standards of
democracy and media freedom since he took office in 2009, and for his
inability to tackle corruption. In a recent debate in the European
Parliament, Bulgaria was described as “the weak link” in democratic
standards and a threat to European values across the continent.
Prague asks the Commission to react
In Prague, Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas said in a statement
that he expected Bulgaria to keep its international obligations as well
as the investment protection agreement in its dispute with ČEZ.
The problem of high prices of electricity in Bulgaria is
politicised and statements by Bulgarian representatives regarding ČEZ
are "non-standard," Nečas said, quoted by the ČTK news agency.
"I expect Bulgaria as a member of the European Union to keep
international obligations, the European law as well as its own laws,
including those regarding foreign investment protection," Nečas said.
Industry and Trade Minister Martin Kuba said he intended to
discuss the situation in the European Commission. The Czech minister
called Bulgaria's conduct unprecedented.
A Bulgarian prosecutor said ČEZ was a “systemic violator” of its
contract with the Bulgarian authorities, citing among other things that
the utility had assigned its procurement to its own subsidiaries,
Dnevnik, the EurActiv partner in Bulgaria, reported.
The Bulgarian energy and water regulator DKEVR has opened a
procedure for withdrawing the license of ČEZ, based on 17 acts on
various regularities, it was announced.
Economy and Energy Minister Delyan Dobrev said he could not
comment if ČEZ would lose its license, saying it was the responsibility
of the regulator.
“If the [regulator] decides to do so - this is a process which
requires more than one single step, it is a process which begins with a
notification, and ČEZ will have time to respond,” Dobrev said.
Marlene Holzner, spokeswoman for Energy Commissioner Günther
Oettinger said that the Commission, said was “a little bit early” to
react to the threats against the Czech utility.
“It is the responsibility of the member state and the regulator to give a license and to withdraw a license,” Holzner said.