As pro-Europeans in Sofia are confident that Bulgaria will switch to the Euro in 2024 pro-Russian parties claim the adoption of the EU single currency will only bring economic instability. Debates and heated exchanges on this topic might become part of the political landscape in the next two years. Disinformation is bound to be part of the picture.
A line drawn in the Parliament between Euro-enthusiasts and the “pro-identity”, Russian friendly parties
As Bulgaria has been gripped by a continuous deadlock which shows little signs of loosening and parties have been in an odd state of constant campaigning, another questionable rhetoric is making its way in the parliament and in the media: will Bulgaria adopt the euro and if yes, will that be a success for the country’s economy or a point of no return that will deepen the turmoil?
It seems like it depends on who you ask and whether they are pro-Brussels or pro-Moscow.
According to those in support of the single currency, the transition should be smooth as the lev, Bulgaria’s currency since 1881, is fixed to the euro since 1997 and part of the exchange rate mechanism (ERM II) since July 2020. This means the lev could participate in the mechanism without severe tensions like devaluing its rate against the euro for at least two years before Bulgaria would qualify to adopt the euro. However, two years later, not much progress has been made. Little before the Petkov cabinet was ousted in June, on May 27, the then-ruling coalition of We Continue the Change, Democratic Bulgaria and Bulgarian Socialist Party approved a plan to join the euro zone starting January 1, 2024.
However, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, which is the direct successor of the one-time repressive Communist party and with traditional pro-Kremlin and conservative leanings, voiced concerns that “there is no way the EU’s common currency would be equally good for both developed and underdeveloped countries”.
By the same time in late May, far-right party Revival, which built a bigger profile in 2021 with their anti-vax rhetoric and in 2022 has been associated with numerous pro-Moscow statements, said that welcoming the euro would “destroy Bulgaria’s economy”.
The chorus was joined by Bulgarian Rise, a nationalist party founded by 2021 interim PM and former Defence Minister Stefan Yanev, who in early 2022 was ousted for calling the war “a special military operation”, which stated the approval of the plan as “a sad day for Bulgaria’s democracy”. The party also shared along with the statement a picture of an elderly lady counting coins - after a verification from Factcheck.bg, it turned out that the photo is coming from Russian sources.
Both Revival and Bulgarian Rise are seeing the adoption of the euro as an identity erasure act for Bulgaria – giving up the lev is promoted as a betrayal, a form of giving up on traditional values and independence.
The attitude to the euro is similar to the other dividing topics in the Bulgarian parliament such as sending military equipment to Ukraine - after months of debates, on November 3 the parliament voted to contribute to the Ukrainian army, with the Socialists and Revival against the move. Last year, the leftists and the far-righters found a similar middle ground in their position against vaccination with the EU-approved jabs.
Will Bulgaria actually be part of the euro zone in 2024?
The short answer is no, as with the months of instability passing, 2024 seems to be wishful thinking.
According to the latest report by the US credit provider Fitch Ratings, published on November 19, despite a positive outlook for Bulgaria in the near future, it’s possible that the euro adoption will be delayed for 2025 and beyond because of the inflation, rising debt, possible energy shortages and the renewed political instability brought in by the ousting of the cabinet of Kiril Petkov.
Also, in order to adopt the euro, by mid-2023 Bulgaria must fulfill the EU’s so-called Maastricht criteria of economic indicators – for price stability, for stable and sustainable public finances, for stability of exchange rates and for the long-term interest rate. At the moment, the country does not meet the first one, as it is struggling with an inflation that got to 11.7 percent.
The political conundrums on the topic have divided the financial experts. “On the subject of whether one is in favor or against the euro, in recent years Bulgarian economists more and more resemble passionate football fans arguing after a derby. Everyone is a fan of their team and there is hardly any argument capable of making them go to the other camp. Therefore, analyzes on the subject, even the most well-intentioned and weighing the pros and the cons, are doomed to failure”, writes journalist Nickolay Stoyanov in Capital Weekly on November 11, when Revival initiated another tense moment in the parliament – they showed publicly a draft report from the Bulgarian National Bank, erroneously presented as heavily critical of Bulgaria adopting the euro.
Disinformation around the euro corresponds with record low trust in the EU
As current coalition talks show little sign of progress, new elections are to be expected in early 2023, possibly in March. This means that the discussions around how the euro will reflect on Bulgaria’s economy will further create divisions and be used as a talking point: for some candidates the pro-Euro politics will be an assurance for Bulgaria’s pro-West perspective, while for others the vocal skepticism will be a guarantee for the conservative-minded voters. This means that the topic will be a source of tension between the pro-West and the pro-Russia parties in a similar vein to the polarizing statements around the pandemic or the war.
After all, this rhetoric falls on a fertile soil: since 2018 Bulgaria was gripped by several conspiracy theories – from interpreting the Istanbul Convention against gender violence as promoting the LGBT+ groups to the rampant antivax theories – all connected by elevating the skepticism to the West as a political and cultural indicator, to the European Union as a uniting force and to the protective role of NATO.
By 2022, part of the work is done. The discussions around the Euro also occur as Bulgarian society has a record low trust in the EU. According to a survey, published by Alpha Research on November 28, only 49 per cent would vote for Bulgaria to stay within EU if there is a referendum on the subject and less than that – 39 percent, which is 4% lower than a year before – think Bulgaria should stay aligned with EU and NATO. Again according to the survey, most of these 49/39 percent are voters of Kiril Petkov’s We Continue the Change and Democratic Bulgaria, to a lesser extent to Boyko Borissov’s GERB, which means that the three most clearly pro-EU parties are engaging most of the pro-EU part of the nation anyway. In turn, this means that pro-EU voters will stay fragmented, as the three major pro-West parties in Bulgaria are opposing forces – since the last general elections on October 2, the reformist duo We Continue the Change and Democratic Bulgaria have repeatedly rejected the possibility of a coalition with GERB whose legacy is marred with allegations about corruption and EU fund mismanagement.
Both GERB and We Continue the Change lack enough support to muster a majority in Bulgaria’s 240-member parliament. This leaves Bulgaria once again in a tedious impasse. While the society seems to be thirsty for change, there is a little enthusiasm left to make a choice. This apathy is more than welcome for those who would like the country to take (at least) few steps back.