The Bulgarian government collapses – tight money and a negative supply shock in the end did it

This is from Reuters:

Bulgaria’s government resigned on Wednesday after violent nationwide protests against high electricity prices, joining a long list of European administrations felled by austerity after Europe’s debt crisis erupted in late 2009.

Many Bulgarians are deeply unhappy over high energy costs, power monopolies, low living standards and corruption in the European Union’s poorest country and protesters clashed again with police late on Tuesday.

Tens of thousands of Bulgarians have rallied in cities across the country since Sunday in protests which have turned violent, chanting “Mafia” and “Resign”.

Prime Minister Boiko Borisov had tried to calm protests by sacking hisfinance minister, pledging to cut power prices and punishing foreign-owned companies – risking a diplomatic row with EU partner the Czech Republic – but the measures failed to defuse discontent.

“I will not participate in a government under which police are beating people,” Borisov said as he announced his resignation on Wednesday. Parliament is expected to accept the resignation later in the day.

Borisov, a former bodyguard to communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, can now try to form a new government, using his rightist GERB party’s strong position in parliament. If he fails an election scheduled for July may be brought forward.

GERB’s popularity had held up well until late last year because austerity measures were relatively mild compared with many other European countries, with salaries and pensions frozen rather than cut. In the last opinion poll, taken before protests grew last weekend, the opposition Socialists were nearly tied with GERB.

Many Bulgarians are feeling frustrated with unemployment hitting a 10-month high of 11.9 percent and the average salary stuck at 800 levs ($550) a month. Frustrations boiled over when heating bills rose during the winter.

Bulgaria raised the costs of electricity – politically sensitive since bills eat a huge part of modest incomes – by 13 percent last July, but the real impact was not felt until households started using electrical power for heat in winter.

I am actually surprised that the Bulgarian government has lasted this long, but in the end the combination of tight monetary conditions (Bulgaria is “importing” tight monetary conditions through its currency board arrangement and the peg against the euro) and a negative (quasi) supply shock in the form of higher energy prices did it.

You can draw your own conclusions, but I can’t help wondering whether Simeon Djankov who was sacked as Bulgarian Finance Minister on Monday today thinks the combination of fiscal austerity and tight monetary conditions has worked well for Bulgaria.

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