Bulgaria country brief

Located in south-eastern Europe, Bulgaria has 354 km of sea border with the Black Sea between Romania and Turkey, and 1,808 km of land borders with Greece, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Turkey. Bulgaria is home to over 7 million people (2016).  The largest ethnic minorities are Turks (8 per cent) and Roma (4.4 per cent).  The capital of Bulgaria is Sofia.

Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007.  There are 17 Bulgarian members of the European Parliament.  Bulgaria will hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first time in the first half of 2018.  The European Commission closely monitors Bulgaria’s judicial reform and efforts to combat corruption and crime.

Bilateral relations

Australia established diplomatic relations with Bulgaria in 1972 and accreditation is through an Australian Ambassador resident in Athens and an Honorary Consul based in Sofia. Bulgaria is represented in Australia by an Embassy in Canberra.

Australia and Bulgaria cooperate on a number of areas of shared interest including: countering terrorism, the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), illegal people movements, international trafficking in drugs and other forms of transnational crime.  The provision of consular services to Australian nationals is an important element of Australian Government business in Bulgaria.

According to the most recent published census results (2011), 2,916 Australian residents were born in Bulgaria and 5,431 people of Bulgarian ancestry are settled in Australia, mainly as a result of inter-war migration. The Australian community in Bulgaria is small, comprising mainly dual nationals and expatriate business people.

Economic and trade relationship

In 2016, two-way merchandise trade was worth $163 million, in Australia’s favour. Australia’s major exports to Bulgaria included copper ores and concentrates, wool, paper and paperboard, and medicaments. Australia’s major imports included medicaments, cheese and curd, men’s clothing and pharmaceutical products. Australia’s trade in services with Bulgaria is negligible. Australia invested $24 million in Bulgaria in 2016, while receiving $2 million in Bulgarian investment.  The proposed Australia-EU Free Trade Agreement could provide a platform to expand bilateral economic links between Australia and Bulgaria.

Support for Australian businesses seeking to develop market opportunities is provided by the Austrade office based in Warsaw, Poland. Business opportunities exist for Australian businesses in the infrastructure and energy sectors.

High level visits (positions held at time of visits)

  • July 2012: Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Richard Marles visited Bulgaria and met with Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Naydenov and Members of Parliament.
  • 2009: President Georgi Parvanov made the first visit to Australia by a Bulgarian Head of State. Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Marin Raykov and Deputy Minister of Economy, Energy and Tourism Evgeni Angelov accompanied him.
  • 2007: Deputy Foreign Minister Feim Chausheve visited Australia for high-level talks.

Political overview

Bulgaria’s national day on 3 March commemorates the signing of the Treaty of San Stefano between Russia and the Ottoman Empire in 1878, which gave northern Bulgaria autonomy. All of Bulgaria became independent in 1908, ending approximately 500 years of Ottoman rule. In 1990, Bulgaria held its first multiparty election, ending the communist era that had prevailed from the end of World War II. Since then Bulgaria, like many of its neighbours, has gone through the arduous task of establishing a political democracy and market economy.

Under its July 1991 constitution, Bulgaria is a parliamentary republic with a parliamentary executive. It has a single chamber, 240-member parliament called the National Assembly, which is elected every four years by universal suffrage. Members are elected through a system of proportional representation, with a four per cent threshold for party representation. The prime minister and cabinet are drawn from the group able to command a majority in the Assembly.

The president, who is also Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, is popularly elected once every five years for a maximum of two terms. The president enjoys largely ceremonial powers but does hold certain emergency powers and may return legislation to the National Assembly for further consideration, which can in turn be overruled.  At the presidential elections held in November 2016, Bulgarians elected Major General Rumen Radev, an independent candidate supported by the Bulgarian Socialist Party, as President of Bulgaria with 59.37 per cent of the vote.

In March 2017, Bulgaria held its third general elections in four years.  The GERB party (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria) won 32.65% of the votes, securing 96 seats in the 240-seat parliament.  In May 2017, the Bulgarian Parliament approved the third government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.  The government, which holds a one-seat majority, is a coalition of the centre-right GERB and the far-right United Patriots.

Foreign policy

Bulgaria's foreign policy focus is on further integration with the EU and NATO.

Bulgaria supports further EU enlargement in the Western Balkans according to established criteria and its own accession to the Schengen area.

As a NATO member since 2004, Bulgaria has shown its commitment to the alliance by participating in joint exercises since 1995 and providing bases during the Kosovo crisis in 1999.  In 2006, it committed one frigate and a medical unit for deployment with the EU force contingent to Lebanon..  It also committed one frigate to enforce the UN arms embargo against Libya in early 2012.  Bulgaria currently contributes 86 troops (as at March 2017) to the Resolute Support Mission (RSM) in Afghanistan, which aims to train, advise and assist Afghan Security Forces.

Bulgaria takes an active role in multilateral institutions and was a non-permanent member on the United Nations Security Council in 2002-03.

Bulgaria is a member of the Australia Group and several other like-minded groupings such as the Wassenaar Agreement, the Zangger Committee, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime.  It is a member of the Council of Europe and, in the second half of 1994, became the first former communist state to hold the Presidency. Bulgaria joined the World Trade Organization in 1996.

Economic overview

Bulgaria’s population of 7.1 million has steadily declined and aged over recent years. The country remains one of the poorest in the EU, with an average monthly salary of $590 (2014) and 7.7 per cent unemployment (2016). It has an estimated GDP of US$52 billion and GDP per capita of around US$7,400 (2016).

Following a slump during the global financial crisis and a slow recovery, Bulgaria has grown by over 3 per cent a year in 2015 and 2016. Unemployment continues to decline (projected to 8.2 per cent in 2016 from 13 per cent in 2013).  The fiscal deficit and public debt remain relatively low.  Nevertheless, there remain some macroeconomic challenges, such as ensuring the stability of the financial sector, raising potential growth, and addressing the consequences of a shrinking population.  Bulgaria’s financial stability was shaken in 2014 by the collapse of the country’s fourth largest bank due to fraud and insider abuse.  Some progress has been made to strengthen supervision, but more work may be needed.  Bulgaria’s economy is also heavily reliant on trade and investment from its EU partners and on absorption of EU funding.  To maintain competitiveness, the Government maintains a flat 10 per cent tax rate.

The EU is Bulgaria’s largest trading partner.  In 2016, 67.9 per cent of Bulgaria exports went to EU Member States while 66.5 per cent of imports came from EU Member States.  Bulgaria’s most important non-EU trade partners are Turkey, China, fYROM, Serbia and the United States, which together accounted for 49.2 per cent of Bulgaria’s exports to non-EU countries in 2016.  In terms of energy, Bulgaria is heavily reliant on Russia, which provides over 90 per cent of its gas imports. 

 

Last updated: May 2017

Last Updated: 5 June 2017