Bulgaria Country Profile
Area: 110,993 sq km (42,823 sq mi)
Population: 7.45 million
Capital City: Sofia
People: Bulgarian (83%), Turk (8.5%), Roma (2.6%)
Religion(s): Bulgarian Orthodox (83.5%), Muslim (13%), Roman Catholic (1.5%), Jewish (0.8%)v
Currency: Lev (Lv)
Major political parties: Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), National Movement of Simeon II (NMS), United Democratic Forces (UtDF), Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF)
Government: Parliamentary Republic
President: Georgi Purvanov
Prime Minister: Sergei Stanishev
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister: Ivailo Kalfin
Membership of international groupings/ organisations: Council of Europe (COE), European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), European Union (EU) - status of EU accession country/status of “observer” in EU institutions (Accession Treaty was signed on 25 April 2005), International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO) (pending member), International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), Organisation for Co-operation and Security in Europe (OSCE), North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), World Health Organisation (WHO), World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), World Trade Organisation (WTO)
Bulgaria covers an area of about 42,800 square miles, comprised mostly of mountains with lowlands in the north and southeast. It shares borders with Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Turkey.
After the Second World War the Bulgarian Communist Party emerged to become the leading political force in the country. Under Soviet guidance, a massive and brutal purge destroyed the remnants of the old regime, and by 1947 all opposition was suppressed. Policies were a direct imitation of Soviet practice: nationalisation of industry and collectivisation of agriculture. From 1954 to 1989 political life was dominated by Todor Zhivkov. Unlike other Soviet satellites, Bulgaria remained entirely acquiescent to Soviet hegemony. A good deal of economic progress was achieved, with significant industrialisation and the development of tourism and agriculture. But by the 1980s, as elsewhere in Eastern Europe, the economy stagnated and levels of indebtedness became critical. Finally in 1989 Zhivkov was ousted by members of the Communist Party, and democratic elections took place in 1990.
Longer Historical Perspective
The Bulgarians descended from the Slavs who migrated into the Balkan peninsula from the 5th Century. In the 7th Century a new wave of migrants, the Bulgars, arrived in what would soon become Bulgaria. The first Bulgarian Kingdom was declared in 681 when the Byzantine Emperor was forced to cede Moesia (the northern half of present-day Bulgaria) to Khan Asparukh. The Bulgars were eventually assimilated into the majority Slav population leaving only their name as a legacy. Under the Bulgar Khans, Bulgaria expanded taking Central Macedonia and Albania from Constantinople. From the end of the 14th century Bulgaria was subjected to 500 years of Ottoman rule, which was finally brought to an end with the help of Russia in 1877. However, Bulgaria remained under Ottoman suzerainty until 1908, at which time full independence was declared.
BBC News Country Timeline: Bulgaria
Bulgaria is a parliamentary republic ruled by a democratically elected government. Members are elected for a period of four years. The President of the Republic is elected for a five-year period. Presidential elections are due in late 2006.
Recent Political Developments
In the years following the collapse of the Communist regime in 1989 Bulgaria suffered from a series of weak governments. The Bulgarian Socialist Party, (BSP, formerly Communist Party), won a clear majority in elections in 1994, raising expectations of a strong and purposeful government. But effective action was not taken against corruption and organised crime, and much-needed fundamental economic reforms were not implemented.
The tide turned against the BSP at the end of 1996 amid hyperinflation and crisis in the banking sector. The opposition candidate, Peter Stoyanov, won convincingly in the presidential elections in November 1996. In December 1996, the BSP government was forced to resign amid public demonstrations and strikes. Following parliamentary elections in April 1997, a coalition dominated by the centre-right UDF (Union of Democratic Forces) formed the government.
The Government succeeded in stabilisation of the shattered economy by introduction of a sound fiscal policy, setting up of a currency board (fixed exchange ration with the German mark) and negotiating the IMF stand-by agreement. The government's priorities included membership of NATO and the EU (negotiations opened in 2000). Unfortunately, although reforms started to take effect, employment levels and standards of living fell, as subsequently did the government in the parliamentary elections of April 2001.
In the Presidential elections of November 2001, Peter Stoyanov was defeated by BSP leader Georgi Purvanov. Leadership of the BSP passed to a young reformer, Sergei Stanishev.
Despite successful consolidation of the economy, the government was not able to appease the public disillusion with that the macroeconomic success did not project into their daily lives. Moreover, omnipresent corruption and criminality remained at the top of the public agenda.
Parliamentary elections held on 25 June 2005 also attracted a record low turnout (56%). The Bulgarian Socialist Party’s (BSP) “Coalition for Bulgaria” won with 35% but was unable to secure a clear majority. The NMS scored second place with only 20%, despite resuming popularity in the first half of 2005.
On 15 August 2006, after a series of political negotiations with the main political parties, the BSP agreed a coalition government with NMS and the Turkish ethnic party MRF. On 17 August, seven weeks after the election, newly appointed BSP Prime Minister Sergei Stanishevs coalition-government passed successfully the Parliament vote. The new government’s priorities include joining the EU in 2007 and tackling corruption and organised crime.
For up to date information on the composition of the government see the Bulgarian Government website
In 2000, Bulgaria opened negotiations with the EU and in 2004 joined the NATO. In 2004, the Government succeeded to finish negotiations with the EU and on 25 April 2005 signed the Accession Treaty with the perspective to enter the EU in 2007.
In October 2005, the European Commission (EC) published a report on Bulgaria’s progress on meeting EU standards noting improvements to agricultural reforms and substantial progress on Justice and Home Affairs reforms. On 16 May 2006, a further report from the EC recognised Bulgaria’s continuing commitment to meeting EU political and economic standards but cited some key areas where improvement was still needed eg. reforms against corruption and organised crime. Bulgaria is still on course for EU accession in 2007 providing the necessary reforms have been made.
Basic Economic Facts
GDP: ˆ21.448bn (2005)
GDP per head: ˆ2,779 (2005)
Annual Growth: 5.5 % (2005)
Inflation: 6.5% (2005)
Unemployment: 9.7% (1Q2006, down by 1.6%)
Exports: ˆ 9,454.1m (2005)
Imports: ˆ 14,682.4bn (2005)
Major Industries: Machine building and metal working, refined petroleum products, food processing, chemicals, construction materials, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, textiles and clothing, power generation (including nuclear)
Major trading partners:
Germany (trade turnover of ˆ5.735m), Italy (ˆ4.794m), Russia (ˆ 4.725m), Turkey (ˆ 3.674m), Greece (ˆ 3.181m), France (ˆ 2.196m
Trade Balance: ˆ5,228.3bn
Current Account: 11.8% of GDP
Fiscal Balance: 3.2% of GDP (2005)
Foreign Direct Investments: (net): ˆ1,856m (9.5% of GDP  )
External Debts: 67.7% of GDP ( end-2005)
Foreign Exchange Reserves: ˆ 6,536.7m (30.5% of GDP [end-2005] )
Exchange rate: 1ˆ = 1.983 lev; 1 US$ = 1.5782 lev (average 2005)
Bulgaria has made significant economic advances in the last few years with an average economic growth of 4.5% for 1998-2005, driven by foreign direct investment, domestic consumption and export. FDI inflows in Bulgaria were the highest in the whole of Central and Eastern Europe in both 2003 and 2004 and remained high in 2005, too. FDI reached EUR 2.2bn in 2004 and EUR 1.9bn in 2005, and is expected to stay high in the run-up to Bulgaria’s accession to the EU in 2007.
Domestic consumption was driven by a bank credit boom in 2004 and 2005. However, consumption, aided by high oil prices, has resulted in excessive import growth and record high deficits in the external current account. The current account deficit reached 9.9% of GDP in 2004, followed by an even wider gap of 11.8% in 2005. So far, the deficit has been bridged by capital inflows, but a sudden withdrawal of investors may make the external position unsustainable.
On the privatisation front, privatisation is coming to an end with the sale of the fixed-line telecom monopoly BTC finished successfully in 2004 after years of failures. Seven regional electricity distributors were also divested in late 2004 attracting record proceeds of some EUR 700mn. The only larger companies yet to be sold are several thermal power plants, Bulgaria’s flag-carrier, Bulgaria Air, and a tobacco holding. Apart from these privatisation projects, the construction of a new nuclear power plant is the biggest item on the government’s investment agenda for 2006. The winner of the ongoing tender will be announced in July and construction of a 2MW plant will start soon afterwards.
Further information about Bulgaria's economy can be found here: UK Trade & Investment Country Profile: Bulgaria
or here: European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) (under countries and sectors).
Bulgaria's Relations with Neighbours
Bulgaria has accorded high priority to promoting good relations with its neighbours. It has signed significant bilateral confidence building agreements with both Turkey and Greece, and established a Balkan initiative for regional security and co-operation.
Bulgaria's Relations with the International Community
Bulgaria began accession negotiations with the EU in March 2000 and formally finished them in December 2004. Provided that it fulfils its commitments to implement European standards in areas such as the economy and the judicial system Bulgaria will become a full member of the EU in January 2007. In 2004, Bulgaria became member of the NATO.
Further information: European Commission Regular Report - Bulgaria - 2004
For further information on the enlargement process and pre-accession assistance such as the twinning project and Phare projects see the European Commission's Enlargement website
Bulgaria joined NATO in May 2004, along with Romania, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
BULGARIAN RELATIONS WITH THE UK
UK representation in Bulgaria
Bulgarian representation in the UK
Relations are excellent. There is regular contact at Ministerial and official level. Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg visited the UK in October 2002, meeting the Prime Minister and HRH The Prince of Wales. The Prime Minister visited Sofia in May 1999 and the Secretary of State in May 1998. President Stoyanov visited London in July 2001 where he met the Prime Minister and had an audience with the Queen. In March 2003, HRH The Prince of Wales visited Sofia and Varna and held meetings with the Bulgarian President and Prime Minister.
More recently, President Georgi Purvanov visited London and called on Prime Minister Tony Blair in April 2006. Home Secretary Charles Clarke and Foreign Office Ministers Dr Kim Howells and Douglas Alexander visited Bulgaria in April and May.
Trade and Investment with the UK
UK exports to Bulgaria continue to rise – £219.9m in 2005, compared to £155.4 m in 2004 – a rise of 41%. Bulgarian exports to UK were up 9.4% in 2005 – rising from £150.3m in 2004 to £164.3m in 2005. The highest value British exports are medicinal and pharmaceutical products and telecommunications equipment. The main Bulgarian exports to UK are clothing/textiles and furniture. Most of Bulgaria’s trade is with the EU – 56% - and principally with Germany, Italy and Greece; Russia also accounts for important parts of imports, though this is almost all from the import of oil and gas.
Cultural Relations with the UK The British Council is active in Bulgaria. It has an office and resource centre in Sofia, a teaching centre in Varna, and helps to run libraries throughout the country. More information: British Council - Bulgaria
President Stoyanov, July 2001
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Economy Nickolay Vassilev, June 2003
European Integration Minister Meglena Kuneva, September 2003
Foreign Minister Passy, November 2003
Finance Minister Milen Velchev, May 2004
Economy Minister Lydia Shouleva, June 2004
Ministry of the Interior 1st Secretary Boyko Borisov, June 2004
Defence Minister Nikolay Svinarov, July 2004
Deputy Prime Minister Plamen Panayotov, March 2005
President Georgi Purvanov, April 2006 – called on Prime Minister, Tony Blair
Prime Minister, Tony Blair 1999
HRH The Duke of York, October 2001 – opened new Embassy and British Council Buildings, met the Prime Minister, Simeon Saxe-Coburg and spoke to local business leaders.
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the MoD, Dr Moonie, October 2001
Baroness Scotland, Lord Chancellor's Department, May 2002
Baroness Blackstone, Department for Culture Media and Sport September 2002
Home Office Minister Bob Ainsworth, February 2003 – called on Foreign Minister, Chief Secretary of the Interior Ministry, Heads of local law enforcement agencies and the Deputy Minister for the Interior
HRH The Prince of Wales, March 2003 – met the President, Prime Minister and gave speeches at the Centre for the Study of Democracy and Bulgarian Business Leaders Forum
Minister for Europe Denis MacShane, March 2003
Minister for Europe Denis MacShane, October 2003
DTI Enterprise Minister Nigel Griffiths, December 2003
DWP Minster for the Disabled Maria Eagle, June 2004
Lord Mayor of London, July 2004
DEFRA Minister Lord Whitty, August 2004
Home Office Minister Caroline Flint, March 2005
Minister for Europe Douglas Alexander, February 2006 – met Bulgarian Minister for Europe, Meglena Kuneva, and held a joint press conference with Prime Minister, Sergey Stanishev regarding Bulgaria’s progress towards EU accession
Home Secretary Charles Clarke, April 2006-called on the President, Prime Minister, Interior Minister and Chief Prosecutor and also met the Foreign Minister and Finance Minister
Lord Bach, April 2006 – in a visit which focussed Bulgaria’s agricultural and rural development he called on the Minister for Agriculture and Forestry, Nihat Kabil, and the Minister for Environment and Waters, Djevdet Chakurov
Foreign Office Minister Dr Kim Howells, May 2006 – met Deputy Interior Minister Boyko Kotsev and launched a UK funded project focussed on preventing organised crime through Bulgaria’s external borders.
In the post-communist period, Bulgaria has consistently implemented policies of observing and protecting human rights. Major abuses are now a thing of the past and the country is a party to various international conventions such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Council of Europe Framework on the Protection of Ethnic Minorities. The main challenges concern social exclusion of ethnic minorities and vulnerable groups such as the Roma and people with special needs, including learning difficulties. The EU accession process worked as an important catalyst for change.
Bulgaria continues to respect human rights and freedoms and engages in continuous improvement of its legislative base and practices. However, Bulgaria needs to tackle social issues such as the exclusion of ethnic minorities and vulnerable groups such as the Roma and the disabled.
To address these particular issues, government initiatives have been launched. A decade long programme “Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015” begun in 2005 with the impetus on the effective integration of the Roma; a detailed action plan for Roma inclusion and a national Roma housing programme. Although, Roma access to health care services also remains inadequate while large dropout rates among high-school students of Roma origin, still needs to be addressed.
In September 2004 the Bulgarian Parliament passed a new Law on the Integration of Disabled People, which came into effect on January 2005. The new law is a major step forward signalling Bulgaria’s commitment to addressing this problem. However the implementation of this and a number of laws, strategies and action plans could be improved.