After more than three and a half hours of debate and 98 votes “against”, the Bulgarian parliament rejected the draft decision of “Vazrazhdane” to hold a referendum that would postpone Bulgaria’s entry into the Eurozone for twenty years. It was supported by 68 “yes” votes from the parliamentary groups of “Vazrazhdane”, “BSP” and “There Is Such a People” and two people from “We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria” (Daniela Bozhinova and Rosen Kosturkov, who said that he voted by mistake).
“Against” voted 14 deputies from GERB, 51 from “We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria” and all present from DPS. As in the legal affairs committee, the majority of GERB MPs voted “abstain” (45 in total).
The question formulated by “Vazrazhdane” and which became the cause of the heated debate is: “Do you support keeping the Bulgarian lev as the only official currency until 2043?”
Using the momentum of the pre-election campaign, the party collected about 470 thousand valid signatures – enough not to ask for the consent of the National Assembly, but to go directly to a poll. However, the law requires the intervention of the parliament – the adoption of a decision to convene a poll and possible editing of the question without changing the meaning. The term for it is up to three months after the submission of the signatures and it expired today.
During the meeting of the committee on legal issues, lawyers united around the thesis that:
- The adoption of this draft decision would contradict certain provisions of the Bulgarian Constitution, which makes it unconstitutional;
- The National Assembly is the competent body that can rule on the matter;
- Regardless of the signatures, the parliament can either accept or reject the draft resolution;
With the decision made in this way, “Vazrazhdane” called on President Rumen Radev to appeal to the Constitutional Court about the admissibility of the issue and the parliamentary group stated that they will discuss whether to appeal to the court about the decision of the National Assembly.
Before the start of the discussion, “Vazrazhdane” wanted it to be broadcast directly on the National Television and the National Radio, and the proposal was supported by the votes of GERB, “Vazrazhdane”, BSP and “There Is Such a People”.
The issue was presented by the spokesperson of the initiative committee against the euro and candidate for mayor of Sofia from “Vazrazhdane” Deyan Nikolov. He put forward the argument that Bulgaria has not ratified a treaty with a set deadline and this does not violate any treaty, and again repeated one of the party’s theses, that Bulgaria is one of the two countries in which there has been no referendum on European integration.
“You will try to sweep away a referendum without a single legal justification. Do not trample on the most democratic principle, especially by calling yourself democrats,” urged Nikolov. And he added: “If you vote ‘against’ today, it means that you are telling the Bulgarian citizens that there should never be any referendums in Bulgaria.” “If you trample on this argument, what will be the difference between North Korea and Bulgaria”, added his colleague Tsoncho Ganev.
Deputy Branimir Balachev came out on behalf of the GERB parliamentary group to state that he and his colleagues needed time to consider how to vote based on legal arguments and the economic and political effect of the referendum.
“We have always looked to the people and they are the sovereign who have a say in many matters. However, when it comes to how the people should express their will, we cannot ignore the purely legal and economic arguments for it, and on that basis I think, that the question asked in this way is not constitutional, because it contradicts certain laws,” he stated.
Balachev referred to the argument of the governor of the Bulgarian National Bank, Dimitar Radev, who was highlighted in the legal commission, that with the question asked in this way, currency control will be restored. “There is no way I can accept, in view of the presence of these laws, that the only currency for payment will be the Bulgarian lev”, noted Balachev and added that he does not find serious economic arguments to wait another 20 years for the adoption of the euro. He added that “Vazrazhdane” had misled the Bulgarian citizens with this issue and now they want to change it with another one.
“With this referendum, you are doing more politics, using the fears of the Bulgarians by saying that prices will rise if we adopt the euro. It does you no honor to gain 3-4-5-thousand votes extra. I do not respect your political stance on the demand for this referendum,” said Branimir Balachev, MP from GERB
After him, the lawyer from “Vazrazhdane” Petar Petrov took the floor, whose speech escalated into an emotional outburst and led to his microphone being turned off. The deputy turned to the chairman of the legal committee, Stoyu Stoev, criticizing him for the report from the meeting. According to him, the report did not include reasons for the commission’s refusal to support the decision. “Aren’t you ashamed to sign this report, to offer one sentence of reasons? It’s good that there will be a rotation, I will be proud to have a new chairman. You are not ashamed to offer this rag to us here,” shouted Petrov and even after the word was taken from him, he continued to yell from the rostrum.
This led to the intervention of the chairman of the meeting, Rositsa Kirova (GERB), who called for calming emotions.
“There Is Such a People” also took the floor, with MP Grozdan Karadzov presenting the already familiar position of the party, namely: “Slavi Trifonov’s party is categorically in favor of Bulgaria entering the Eurozone as soon as possible, but they support the thesis that limiting the right of Bulgarians to participate in referendums is a very bad practice adopted in our country.”
“The topic itself is the secondary issue, the more important is when will we stop being afraid of the voice of the people and how long will we think that the opinion of the citizens is not important“, noted Karadzhov and called on the deputies to overcome their fear of the voice of the people, to “swallow this arrogance that you know and can do everything“, and listen to the will of the Bulgarians, who simply want to be asked.
The deputy chairman of the party Toshko Yordanov addressed GERB, DPS and BSP, outlining two scenarios: either the parliament violates the law and thus pours fuel on “Vazrazhdane”, or it respects the law and attacks the issue in the Constitutional Court. “The referendum is a matter of democracy, with over 400,000 signatures, this debate is simply unnecessary,” emphasized Yordanov.
Former Minister of Justice Nadezhda Yordanova from “We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria” also took part in the debate. The position she presented is that, referring to the treaty with the European Union and the mechanisms that Bulgaria has signed, there is not a single element in which the member state can unilaterally say in which year it will adopt the euro. However, Yordanova emphasized that she is an active supporter of holding referendums.
“The voice of the people must be heard, but the voice of the law is louder. It means democracy, it means the rule of law,” said Yordanova
The lawyer from the coalition, Vasil Pandov, also took the floor to add that “Vazrazhdane” intentionally misled people with the campaign they conducted. He recalled that “Vazrazhdane” had said more than once that they were not against the euro in principle, but the campaign went precisely in the direction against the euro and misled the citizens.
Kristian Vigenin from the Bulgarian Socialist Party presented the general position of the party, which is that the law should be respected as it is and the procedure should end with a decision to hold such a referendum.
“The legal arguments were not convincing enough, including those that convinced us that a treaty on Bulgaria’s accession to the EU makes it impossible to hold such a referendum. Our opinion is that this is not the case,” noted Vigenin. And he repeated the thesis of the socialists, presented in the legal commission: “The people who put their signatures on this issue should be respected, they deserve to get the right to see their effort develop in holding such a referendum,” he said.
In a personal capacity, Vigenin noted that the question posed by “Vazrazhdane” was incorrect and therefore he did not put his signature. He added that he himself believes that the introduction of the euro is beneficial for Bulgaria and if such a referendum is held, “he will spare no effort” to explain why this is so.
At the end of the debate, the deputy chairman of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) Yordan Tsonev stated that he did not like the arguments during the debate. He added that he is not against asking the Bulgarian citizens, but it is not appropriate to do this for a choice that has already been made.
According to Tsonev, the politicians did not do their job and did not explain to the people what would be the benefit of entering the Eurozone and of the introduction of the euro. “Because we left a vacuum, it was filled with fear. We are afraid of the fear they instilled in people with the introduction of the euro because, being in a currency board, we have been operating in the same conditions for 30 years that we will operate in and during the euro. (…) The introduction of the euro will only bring benefits, because the negatives have already been consumed,” said Tsonev.
“Vazrazhdane” has already announced that after the parliament rejects the draft decision, the parliamentary group will take the following steps:
- will request a conversation with President Rumen Radev about convening a referendum and referring it to the Constitutional Court;
- they will send a report to the prosecutor’s office;
- they will also refer the decision of the Parliament to the Constitutional Court.
“Vazrazhdane” will need the support of another parliamentary group, since the referral to the Constitutional Court requires the signatures of a fifth of the deputies, and the party has only 37. The leading lawyer of “Vazrazhdane” Petar Petrov confirmed to Bulgarian media “Dnevnik” last week, that a constitutional appeal has already been prepared, to be submitted “the very next day“. It was also signed by the deputies of “There Is Such a People”, who are 11, and so the signatures become exactly 48.
The court does not have a deadline to rule on either the admissibility of the request or the merits.