Bulgaria covered a surface area of 111,000.9 sq. km and has a population of 7,153,784 inhabitants at the end of 2015. Over the years, the administrative and territorial division of the country was subject to multiple changes, reflecting the geopolitical, demographic and territorial dynamics. The principles of local self-government and a three level territorial organisation were established with the Tarnovo Constitution (1879).
The introduced European Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics went through several stages and took the current form in 2008 with 2 NUTS 1 regions, 6 NUTS 2 regions, 28 NUTS 3 districts, 265 LAU 1 municipalities, and 5,258 LAU 2 municipalities. The formal regions were established for planning, programming, management, supply of resources, monitoring and assessment of regional development. NUTS 1 and 2 regions are not administrative and territorial units; they have no administrative structures and are not autonomous. Regional Development Councils (RDC) are set up for all 6 NUTS 2 regions, and chaired by a district governor, designated on rotation principle for 6 months. Their operational funds are allocated from the budgets of the relevant district administrations to cover the urgent needs of the council for its main functions – consulting, approval, coordination, monitoring and control of strategic planning of regional and spatial development at the NUTS 2 and 3 levels. At the national level RDCs monitor the operational programmes with an impact on the development of the region, co- financed from the EU funds. The NUTS 3 regions are administrative and territorial units and cover the territories of 28 individual districts. District Development Councils are established in each of them, chaired by the district governor and comprised of the mayors of all municipalities within the respective district, the representatives of the municipal councils, the organisations of employers and employees. Representatives of legal entities, who have an interest in the development of the district, can attend the sessions of the council in advisory capacity.
There is a grave disparity in social and economic development between the centre and the periphery both within the country and at regional and local levels. The North-western region is the most scarcely populated, which is mostly affected by outgoing migration ows, with the poorest economic development, high unemployment and serious social problems. The Southwestern region is the most densely populated region due to better living and employment opportunities, offered by the capital city. Similar disparities exist at the district and municipal levels.
The group of “informal” regions are formed by joining districts and/or municipalities, related to the specific zoning of the country or for specialised studies or programmes. First in this group are the “targeted support areas”, which pursuant to the RD Act can be differentiated in the territory of NUTS 3 regions and cover one or more neighbouring municipalities. They form the territorial base for the concentration of resources for narrowing intra-regional disparities.
Second in the informal regions group are the areas for cross-border cooperation. The priority areas are the Danube river and the Black Sea area, which are connected to the EU regional strategy for the Danube river and the Integrated Maritime Policy. This group includes also the Euroregions, established for the preservation of common cultural values and supporting social and economic cohesion. These regions have no direct political power, but have shared history, common interests and goals, developed strategic and multi-level partnerships.
Regions’ interactions and Governance
The interaction between regions and the central and local authorities in Bulgaria complies with the principles of subsidiarity. Local cooperation could be given a higher assessment at NUTS 3 and LAU 1 levels, due to the local initiatives and civil society structures supporting the cooperation.
The advantages in the field of regional policy, after the EU accession, are associated with the enhanced role of the regions, the introduction of new principles of planning and programming of regional development, and the integration of the sectoral policy priorities, which binds them to the national territory. With the introduction of a series of important, hierarchically related statutory strategic documents, some order and rhythm was established in regional and spatial planning, however a lot of work still needs to be done for institutional and expert capacity development.
The political life in the country is a result of the transition from one-party to multi-party system. The foundations of the electoral system were laid with the Tarnovo Constitution (1879). After 1989 different electoral systems were used in an attempt to find the most accurate expression of votes, to reduce the gap between voters and candidates, to reduce distortions and buying of votes, but the results were below expectations. No elections were held at the regional level. Reduced trust in political parties and voter turnout, and the political tensions in the country in recent years raised the issues of compulsory and electronic voting. The Direct Participation of Citizens in State Governance and Local Self-government Act provides the opportunity to express opinions on important national and local matters. Bulgaria is party to the EU Convention against Corruption since 2006. The legal framework in this field was subject to reform after the EU accession, and resulted in amendments to the legal and institutional framework. Although the legal framework is already finalised, in many areas its enforcement is unsatisfactory. This was confirmed by the Eurobarometer survey for the 2014 EU Anti-Corruption Report. More serious efforts and coordinated actions need to be made to eradicate corruption from different levels of government and from the NGO sector. A possible solution is to accelerate the introduction of e-government and to reduce the administrative burden of the regulations, which slow down development and create prerequisites for corruption practices. The 2015 report of Transparency International marks the approval of the National Strategy for Prevention and Combating Corruption in Bulgaria (2015–2020).
Bulgaria is well known for its ethnic and religious tolerance. The National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Affairs was set up at the Council of Ministers as a consultative authority to support the implementation of the state ethnic and integration policy. Units with the same functions are set up at the district and municipal level. The National Roma Inclusion Strategy (2012–2020) was also developed. Currently the municipal administrations seek solutions to the problems of occupation, illegal construction, and undeveloped infrastructure, mainly through integrated plans for urban regeneration. Initiatives of NGOs also contribute to the improvement of education, living conditions and social inclusion of the Roma population. Additional efforts of the Bulgarian government the past few years were concentrated on reducing regional disparity and expanding integration, coordination and partnership in the overall regional policy.
by Vasselina Troeva
The Report on the state of Regionalisation in Europe.
More than 40 experts contributed to this work, by delivering detailed reports about the state of regionalisation and multilevel governance in chosen European countries. The study covers 41 countries, and each country report is based on a similar structure, thereby allowing a comparative approach among all studied countries.
- The first part of the report gives the political impetus from the main European stakeholders
- The second part of this report entails a summarised version of the country reports. The objective is to provide interested readers with a short overview of the main features of regionalisation in various European countries. The complete versions of the country reports are available on the AER website, under LINK
- The third part provides a thematic approach based on the main findings delivered by the country reports and the current state of regionalisation in Europe. The trends and outlooks lead to open questions on the future of the regions in the European landscape, and more broadly on the role of subnational authorities in the shaping of the continent.
- The fourth part gives the floor to the actual regional decision-makers in Europe, across a series of interviews and statements by Presidents, Vice-Presidents and elected representatives of the European regions.
Over the next months, we will be focusing on a different European country’s approach to regionalisation. During these months, look out for #RoR2017 on Twitter and/or Facebook and follow us at @europeanregions.
Strong European regions are a pathway to a stronger Europe.