After difficult days that battered Bulgaria’s already troubled image, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov moved to reassert control by announcing a set of high-powered appointments to reinvigorate the country’s foreign policy and strengthen its efforts towards economic recovery.
He also found room for political magnanimity in naming an opposition MP, a socialist former deputy prime minister who had been in charge of Bulgaria’s use of EU funds, as a candidate for a European Bank for Reconstruction and Development vice-presidency – and Borissov did not fail to emphasise that by doing so, he was demonstrating an objectivity and greatness of spirit that he saw as lacking in those who had campaigned against failed European Commission candidate Roumyana Zheleva.
Zheleva was the catalyst for most of the changes announced on January 19 and 20, and when his own party’s MPs rebelled and demanded that he accept her resignation as Foreign Minister after he let her withdraw as candidate Commissioner, Borissov used the chance to move the national conversation away from the Zheleva debacle.
Reaction to the announcement that Kristalina Georgieva would move from her World Bank vice-presidency to be Bulgaria’s new Commissioner-designate was swift and positive, including from most of those who had excoriated the previous candidate. Georgieva’s background, including dealings with the United Nations and developing countries, suggested that Borissov was correct in describing her as his "strongest player".
European Commission President Jose Barroso told journalists that he would meet Georgieva on January 21 and she would be offered the international co-operation, humanitarian aid emergency response portfolio – a job that had been proposed for her predecessor and the importance of which was dramatically illustrated by the crisis after the Haiti earthquake.
Apart from her experience in the field, Georgieva had a further advantage; as a World Bank official, she had no business ownerships, a fact leaving potential political opponents with no ammunition.
Stepping into the vacuum of foreign policy leadership left by the former foreign minister is Nikolai Mladenov, who has masters’ qualifications in military studies and international relations, a trilingual veteran – notwithstanding his youth – of foreign affairs issues and a Middle East specialist.
Mladenov, identified for months in media reports as a powerful candidate to take charge of Bulgaria’s foreign policy, will have before him the task of asserting and articulating a more significant and credible place for Bulgaria in foreign affairs – and helping to repair its damaged credibility within the EU.
Mladenov will move from being Defence Minister, to be succeeded by Anyu Angelov, a general whose CV includes having been director of defence planning, head of the National Defence Academy and before than, defence attaché in the United Kingdom. Angelov will push forward the task of military reform and a revised command system envisaged in new legislation – a mission not without political complications, including misgivings from President Georgi Purvanov, whose constitutional role as commander-in-chief will ebb with the new law.
Princeton graduate Ilian Mihov had Cabinet rank handed to him by Borissov, who recruited the macroeconomics professor to strengthen the Government’s financial and economic team. Borissov described Mihov as one of the world’s 500 leading macro-economists. It is envisaged that Mihov, a lecturer whose specialist fields of research include monetary and fiscal policy and economic growth, will work alongside Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Simeon Dyankov in seeking to get Bulgaria’s economy towards a healthier state and, in a parallel process, on as rapid a track as possible into the euro zone.
Borissov named socialist MP Meglena Plougchieva, who in the previous cabinet had the task of salvaging the situation with Bulgaria’s EU funds, to be Bulgaria’s nominee for a vice-presidency of the EBRD. Already, Borissov had said that his Government had backed someone with a socialist background for an international post – Irina Bokova, now Unesco chief – while hitting out at the socialists for undermining Zheleva. He held up Plougchieva as further evidence of his readiness to make judgments according to an individual’s quality, not politics.