Bulgaria’s GERB mulls territorial reform to cut spending

Bulgaria’s GERB mulls territorial reform to cut spending
By Clive Leviev Sawyer – Sofia
Bulgarian centre-right party GERB is drafting plans for administrative-territorial reform as part of its governance programme ahead of the October 5 early elections, a report in daily newspaper Pressa said on August 11.
According to opinion polls, GERB is heavily favoured to win the next parliamentary polls, although it is less certain that it would win a majority in the next legislature to form a government without coalition support. The party won the European Parliament elections in May by 11.5 percentage points over its main rivals, the socialists.
As part of the process to draft its electoral manifesto, working groups inside the party are discussing the proposal to cut the number of municipalities in the country by one third – thus reducing their number from 264 to 176. Such a move would help save taxpayer money by reducing administrative expenses, the report said.
GERB has considered similar plans in 2010, but the topic has also surfaced on other occasions in the previous decade, although such discussions never resulted in a bill being tabled in Parliament. At that time, GERB politician Tomislav Donchev, a former EU funds minister and currently MEP, who is now in charge of drafting the party manifesto, suggested various incentives for smaller municipalities that agree to merge with their neighbours, the daily said.
The borders of Bulgaria’s current administrative units – 28 districts and 264 municipalities – were set by presidential decree in 1999, which re-established the administrative sub-divisions that existed for most of Bulgaria’s communist-era period, reversing the administrative reform of 1987, which reduced the number of districts to nine.
One version of the proposal envisions reducing the number of districts to six, the same number as the planning regions under the current EU funding framework for Bulgaria, and 150 municipalities, Pressa said.
The daily quoted unnamed party sources saying that the discussions on the issue were at an early stage and would be discussed again after the parliamentary elections.