AIM: start

FRI, 10 AUG 2001 19:30:30 GMT

The Government of Lawyers and YUPPIES

Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha Relying on the Youth

AIM Sofia, 26 July, 2001

Lawyers and Yuppies – this the combination on which the new Prim Minister of Bulgaria, Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha has pinned his hopes in forming his Cabinet. If it would have to be described it in two words, it could be called the surprise Government. But, also the Government of experts, as well as of youth and hope.

Until the last minute Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha kept in suspense even his own deputy group, which is in the majority in the 39th convocation of the National Assembly. Almost a month after the parliamentary elections, all kinds of proposals for Ministers were still pouring in so that at one moment, according to the unofficial data, the number of candidates reached 240 names. However, in the end it was up to only one man – the new Prime Minister - to decided who would join the new Cabinet.

That is why it turned out that for observers names of many Ministers were both a mystery and surprise. Some 90 percent of the members of the new Cabinet have no previous political experience, which is why the term expert Government appeared in the Bulgarian political terminology.

If some position had been “reserved” in advance, then those were the Ministry of Economy and Ministry of Finance, in connection with which names of two yuppies from the London City – Nikolaj Vasilev and Milen Velcev – were mentioned from the very start. The most probable reason for this is that they have been suggested by Simeon’s son – Prince Kyril Preslavski who made his business career in London and is a founder of the Bulgarian City Club in the British capital.

Minister of the Economy Nikolaj Vasilev was Vice-President of the “Lazard Capital Markets” bank and, according to the British “Independent”, he left behind his annual salary of 500 thousand pounds in order to help reconstruct the Bulgarian economy. Similar is the fate of Milen Velcev, who was Vice-President of the Department for Developing Markets in “Meryl Lynch” bank. Actually, these are the first two Ministers in the recent history of this country who are coming from the world of real foreign business in order to realise in practice the idea on the return of intellectual capital to Bulgaria.

Similarly, the majority of other Ministers have gained experience in the real business. For example, in contrast to her predecessors, Minister of Social Affairs Lidija Suleva worked for employers and not for trade-union organisations. Minister of Transport is also coming from the real business – he was the Executive Manager of “Cable Bulgaria” company.

Another large group of Ministers are private businessmen. After the yuppies have taken the economic departments, the repressive ones were left for the lawyers. Professor Georgi Petkanov, long-time lecturer of law at the University of Sofia, came to the helm of the Interior Ministry; Ministry of Defence went to a lawyer, Nikolaj Svinarov. Solomon Pasi, representative of one of the oldest and best renowned non-governmental organisation “The Atlantic Club” will be in charge of foreign affairs. Pasi was the first who most ardently supported Bulgaria’s joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Now his priority objective is to have Bulgaria invited to join the NATO membership next year.

With one move, Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha fundamentally changed the public opinion of the Government in just a couple of hours. In the Government, which he announced as a coalition of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), the Prime Minister also included two Mayors elected with votes of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP): Mayor of Ruse - Dimitar Kalvec and the Mayor of Blagoevgrad – Kostadin Paskalev. The latter even became the Vice-Premier.

This move was considered a sign that the King would not make any difference between party colours, but would rather count on professional qualities of his Ministers. The only one who would not have any part in running the country is the NDSV’s most logical and expected partner – the until-recent ruling coalition of the Associated Democratic Forces (ODS). The inclusion of the Mayor from the BSP ranks was reason for the blue leadership to take an extremely negative stand towards the new Cabinet. “In this way Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha is restoring BSP to power, which we cannot accept. The NDSV has actually let down its voters”, said former Foreign Minister and chief of the ODS deputy group, Nadezda Mihajlova.

For its part, the BSP is also not feeling a part of the new authorities. The presence of two most active red Mayors in the Government was no less shocking for the left. The red parliamentary group abstained from voting for the new Cabinet since there is practically no agreement between the NDSV and the BSP on joint running of the country. The situation with the coalition partner of the National Movement Simeon II, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, which is protecting the interests of the Turkish minority, is also interesting. The Movement got two ministerial posts – the one for agriculture and forestry and the other of the Minister without portfolio for natural disasters and damages. At the same time, the BSP (as non-coalition partner) got two key ministerial posts.

Thus, the Parliament found itself in an unprecedented situation - the ODS coalition of the right and the left coalition for Bulgaria (headed by the BSP) are not the opposition to a Government with rightist ambitions, but frequently using populist slogans. Presenting his programme declaration to the Parliament, Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha indicated the priorities of his new Cabinet: membership in the EU and NATO, fight against corruption and rapid and stable growth. He also supported the fix foreign exchange rate and the continued functioning of the Exchange Board until Bulgaria joins the EU. His basic target on the economic plane is to create favourable environment for the growth of foreign investments, balanced development of small, medium and large-scale business. His economic Ministers are planning to reduce the taxes for investors and introduce strict control of the customs services.

In other words, Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha promised what any other Prime Minister would. However, in contrast to previous Governments he has at his disposal fresh and reliable potential of young experts whose only shortcoming is the lack of political experience. In all likelihood, the King-Prime Minister, Simeon II, will be personally looking after their political image.

Georgi Filipov (AIM)