SPEECHES AND STATEMENTS
Address by President Rosen Plevneliev to the National Assembly
Madam President of the National Assembly
I came here to thank you for the constructive conversations that we held together within the framework of the Presidency’s initiative, the “month of political consultations”.
With your support, the Presidential institution has become a platform for concrete ideas, priorities and solutions for the development of Bulgaria in 2012. We have proved that the parties can work together and think in a common direction. And even today, here in the plenary hall, where generally debates are heated and different positions defended, on some important topics you have turned your back on political opposition, and have dealt with these topics responsibly and created a non-partisan consensus.
I am here to summarize and present to you the topics that together we have identified as important and as key. These are:
- The Bulgaria 2020 National Development Programme;
- Measures to support economic growth and employment;
- Energy efficiency and diversification;
- Reforms in 2012.
These topics sound familiar not only because of the consultations that we held last month. They were part of my speech two months ago from this parliamentary speaker’s podium, when I outlined the Presidential institution's priorities over the next five years. But because they sound familiar, do not be misled that today I will be repetitive, because the difference is that we have reached consensus on some important priorities. So I'm here today to identify them.
This year we will produce our long-term programme and strategy, “Bulgaria 2020”. We have arrived at undoubted agreement and consensus on the need for wide public debate in formulating long-term priorities of the country. These debates will be held in various formats - in Government, the Presidency, Parliament and civil society. We will seek non-partisanship, sustainability of the objectives and guarantees that whoever is in power will work to implement them.
An action plan should be formulated for the Bulgaria 2020 strategy rather than it being another abstract document. “What is most important is not only to define goals but also to answer how and when will they be achieved and who is responsible for doing so. Producing “Bulgaria 2020” within a broad social consensus will be the Government’s trump card in negotiating in 2013 to get the most favourable conditions for our country within the European Union’s 2014-2020 fiscal framework.
In the economic sphere, all of you identified as key the stimulation of investment, employment, income policy and promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises. We all support pro-active policies to support innovation, agriculture, tourism and other promising sectors.
In 2012 we expect lower economic growth, about 1.4 per cent of GDP. Because of the crisis and uncertainty, two out of three growth factors – namely, consumption and investment – are low. In the past three years, the Bulgarian economy registered a new engine of growth, exports. Good export growth means increased competitiveness and better quality. This should be supported. It is essential to support SMES in establishing contacts with foreign partners to promote their products internationally, to create their own brands, and to have easy access to credit and export insurance.
We need dynamic policies on attracting investment. Further thought should be given to incentives for investors. I hope that the InvestBulgaria Agency will obtain the powers necessary powers to be able to provide effective support to foreign companies and Bulgarian companies that invest, including the introduction of one-stop shop service. This means that amendments to the Investment Promotion Act are essential.
Everyone shared the view that good infrastructure is an important prerequisite for investment, economic and regional development. The focus of government and political parties on the formation and acceleration of infrastructure projects is very useful and necessary for the development of the country and Bulgarian regions.
Macro-economic stability is crucial for the country and I thank you for all supporting it.
We all agree that urgent measures are needed to combat youth unemployment. In Europe, there are many unemployed young people. This leads to social instability and lack of prospects. However, many countries around the world are preparing an army of highly educated young people. We do not have much time to react. Tackling youth unemployment is of strategic importance for long-term development of Bulgaria and it is therefore necessary to provide quality education and a rapid transition from education to employment. We must provide access to entrepreneurship programmes to young people, to help them gain knowledge and confidence so that they can successfully implement their own businesses and to inspire them to take that route. These programmes must be set up in secondary schools and universities. A second important prerequisite is to facilitate access to finance for those starting out, when their promising idea has to become a specific business plan. I hope to see in Budget 2013 opportunities for measures to tackle youth unemployment.
Bulgaria is the European champion in wasting energy – with a lot of energy, we achieve a little production. This is a big problem, but also a huge opportunity, because investments in energy efficiency are extremely promising, with good returns and, in addition to creating thousands of jobs in small and medium enterprises, they make for comfortable towns and significantly lower bills that people have to pay. Regardless of how much new capacity we will build and what the price of electricity, we are not solving the structural problem of our economy, and that is high energy intensity. The solution is energy efficiency. Again, the solution is energy efficiency! That is also why it was identified as high priority by all political forces.
The cheapest energy is economical energy. Through a national energy efficiency programme, we will seek a result for all Bulgarians, and not only an influential group of people, in energy.
In 2012 we must refine the mechanisms, and properly structure the activities and responsibilities of the national energy efficiency programme and start many projects. It is essential that this priority has significant resources, at least one billion leva in the fiscal framework for 2014-2020.
In energy, apart from energy efficiency, we also achieved consensus on the diversification of energy sources. We have a right to a choice. We should not depend on only one source and one pipeline. We should, and must, therefore accelerate the process of construction of gas connections with our neighbors, diversification of sources and suppliers are urgent tasks.
Belene nuclear power station was the theme throughout the month of political consultations. Irrespective of the fact that we did not reach consensus on the future project, we were of one opinion, that is not Moscow, Berlin or Washington, but Sofia that should make the decision, based on economic benefit for our country, risk assessment and protection of the national interest.
For me, the decision taken by the government and parliament decision to stop the Belene project is correct. In the way that it was structured and launched, it is uneconomic, financially unsecured, with an uncertain market for the implementation of the energy project, and therefore poses a serious risk to future generations.
We have reached consensus on the need to come up with new models for funding innovation and research. Bulgarian science should be oriented towards building links with the market to attract business and to encourage private companies to work with researchers and scientists. This year, an important project, “Sofia Tech Park, will be launched as a platform for training young people in entrepreneurship and creating new, innovative companies in the field of ICT. With proper programming of European and national resources in the period 2014-2020, we can provide the necessary funds to build high-tech centres, industrial parks as part of regional and national clusters. The path to sustainable economic development runs through the establishment of such centres and providing them with adequate infrastructure, well-trained professionals and a quality environment for doing business.
During the political consultations we flagged planned reforms in several important sectors - national security, the justice system, administration and water sector, in which we can achieve substantial progress in 2012.
Continuing the reform of the security sector should result in achieving greater efficiency and an integrated approach in the system. To regulate the National Security Service, Military Intelligence Service at the Ministry of Defence and National Intelligence Service by separate laws, as well of improvement of mechanisms for control and co-ordination, are important steps in the right direction, and they can and should happen in 2012.
All political forces saw judicial reform as a priority. The state of the judiciary is one of the most important prerequisites for the implementation of other national priorities.
The justice system has been reformed many times in the past 20 years. We will continue to improve on this, but it is time for results. Whether we have achieved independence and efficiency of justice is known only through the court cases. The focus of public attention is focused on what results the system produces and whether there is justice.
In 2012, two laws are to be debated and approved, the law on confiscation of illegally acquired property and the new Penal Code. On these topics we need shared will by political parties and an overall message to convey to Bulgarian citizens and to our European partners.
Another big issue, a priority for us all, is the upcoming election of the Supreme Judicial Council. It is important that the new Supreme Judicial Council begins its work with a high degree of public confidence, without suspicion of party bias and political compromises over appointments. To guarantee this, clear rules for selection, transparency and openness about the reasons for decisions are needed. This requires notification well in advance of possible nominees and public hearings of their visions and concepts.
We need to hold a thorough debate on the recommendations made by international organizations in connection with the Electoral Code and electoral process in order to prevent harm to the reputation of Bulgaria, because Bulgaria's reputation is very important. A solution is needed so that there is not a shadow of a doubt that the next elections are conducted fairly and democratically.
The year 2012 is important for Schengen. The Government and the institutions have worked hard and we are at the finish line. Let's wish for a successful accession, with the support of all of you, to the Schengen zone in 2012.
We united around the idea of the urgency of another major reform, namely administrative reform. The amendments tabled in Parliament to the law on administration are a step in the right direction. The ultimate goal is to build a non-partisan, motivated, responsible and professional public administration. It is mandatory that the future must see legislative changes to separate political and administrative responsibility, and to build more mechanisms for transparency in the system. Administrative reform cannot be completed successfully without a working e-government.
E-government should be no less a priority than building highways. It is a strong anti-corruption measure and significantly eases the conditions for doing business and investment. Let us, as for highways, secure finance for this priority and make it clear, year by year, who must carry out which task, when and how. Bulgarians will again believe in their country and that it works in their favour when waiting at a counter is replaced with electronic services. E-government is the most effective tool to create relationships of transparency and trust between citizens and the state.
Reform of the water sector is also on the agenda. It is an important prerequisite for the country's economic growth and for improving quality of life. Water is a resource for the future, which we possess, but not use it properly. We want to prevent disasters in the future such as those in Tsar Kaloyan and the village of Biser, by creating mechanisms for responsible attitude to the ownership, management and control of water facilities. Our country needs a comprehensive overall strategy for the water sector, not only in the context of disasters. We must ensure that such disasters will not happen again. Reform will enable us not only to manage the water sector sustainably, but also to ensure proper economic development in order to attract investment and the development of priority key sectors such as agriculture, energy and many others, through smart management of water resources.
Thank you for respecting the Presidential institution and did not abuse it as a platform for propaganda, rather, you used it in the best manner, as you undertook clear commitments in the full view of society. We shall continue to seek active co-operation with the National Assembly. We shall make use of the right of the Head of State to monitor directly and to remind from this rostrum that the commitments undertaken must be implemented by all. The political intentions of this consensus should translate into real, visible and consistent results and action in the interests of people, society and the sustainable development of Bulgaria.
With the will that we share, we can achieve this goal.
I wish you success in your work!