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Overview

Geography

Bulgaria is located in south-eastern Europe, on the eastern part of the Balkan Peninsula bordering the Black Sea (354 km coastline). Its border countries are (anticlockwise) Romania, Serbia, North Macedonia, Greece and Turkey. The only navigable river is the Danube (constituting part of the northern border with Romania), while due to natural characteristics the other rivers are shorter, unsuitable for navigation and unevenly distributed throughout the territory. There are a large number of mostly small lakes (coastal, glacial, karst, etc.). The mean elevation is 472 m; the highest point is Peak Musala (2925 m) (Central Intelligence Agency, n.d.).

 

Social

According to the 2011 census, the predominant ethnic group is Bulgarian (84.8%), followed by Turkish (8.8%), Roma (4.9%), etc., while 0.8% are of undetermined ethnicity (about 9% of the population decline to answer the voluntary question on ethnicity). The official Bulgarian language is the native language of over 84% of the population, while for minorities it is most often the second language. In recent years, the trends of population decline and aging have continued (at the end of 2019, the number of people aged 65 and over was 21.6%, while the number of people under 15 years of age was 14.4%). The imbalance in the territorial distribution is also increasing as 50.4% of the population lives in two of the six NUTS 2 regions (Southwest and South Central), and almost 20% of the population is concentrated in the capital (Republic of Bulgaria – National Statistical Institute, n.d.).

 

Political, legal and governance

Bulgaria is a unitary parliamentary republic with a unicameral parliament (the National Assembly with 240 national representatives). According to Chapter One of the current constitution: ‘Article 1(1) Bulgaria shall be a republic with a parliamentary system of government.  Article 1(2) The people shall be the sole source of state power.  Article 2(1) The Republic of Bulgaria shall be a unitary state with local self-government.  Article 4(1) […] It shall be governed according to the Constitution and the laws of the land.  Article 8 State power shall be shared among a legislative, an executive, and a judicial branch of government.’ (National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria, n.d.).

According to Chapter Four of the Constitution, the president is the head of state, elected directly by the people for a five-year term. The President is the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, exercises control over the legislative activity of the National Assembly through the right of veto, and schedules the national and local elections within the time frame designated by law. The Council of Ministers is the main executive power in the Republic of Bulgaria. The Council of Ministers directs and implements the domestic and foreign policy of the country, ensures public order and national security, directs the implementation of the state budget, and adopts decrees, directives, and decisions. The Council of Ministers consists of the prime minister, deputy prime ministers, and government ministers (National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria, n.d.).

At the beginning of 2021, the members of the Council of Ministers are ministers with the following responsibilities: Defence; Foreign Affairs; Tourism; Interior; Regional Development and Public Works; Labour and Social Policy; Health; Justice; Education and Science; Finance; Culture; Environment and Water; Agriculture, Food and Forestry; Transport, Information Technology and Communications; Economy; Energy; Youth and Sports. (Council of Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria (a), n.d.).

Bulgaria has been a member of the European Union (EU) since 2007.

General information

Name of country Bulgaria
Capital, population of the capital (31.12.2019) Sofia, 1,328,790
Surface area 110,879 km²
Total population (31.12.2019) 6,951,482
Population density (31.12.2019) 63 inhabitants/km²
Population growth rate (31.12.2019) -0.67%
Degree of urbanisation (31.12.2019) 73.7%
Human development index (2019) 816
GDP (2019, Current prices, PPS) EUR 115,000 million
GDP per capita (2019, Current prices, PPS) EUR 11,340
GDP growth (from 2018 to 2019) 3.4%
Unemployment rate (2019) 4.2%
Land use (2019) 34.7% forest and scrubland 1.8% inland waters 58.2% agricultural land 4.5% built-up land
Sectoral structure (2019) 71.2% services and administration 25.1% industry and construction 3.7% agriculture and forestry

Administrative structure and system of governance

Bulgaria is a unitary (non-federal) state with highly concentrated power at the national level. According to Article 18 of the Constitution: (1) The subsurface resources, the coastal beaches, the national roads, as well as the water bodies, forests and parks of national importance, and the nature reserves and archaeological reserves designated by law, shall constitute exclusive state property. (4) A state monopoly may be established by law on rail transport, the national postal and telecommunication networks, the use of nuclear energy, the manufacture of radioactive products, weapons, explosives, and biologically potent substances. A constitutional obligation of the state (Article 20) is also to create conditions for the balanced development of the various regions of Bulgaria and to assist the territorial authorities and activities through financial, credit, and investment policies (National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria, n.d.).

After the political changes at the end of the 1980s, a prolonged discussion took place in Bulgaria and increasing attention was paid to the decentralisation of national power. The main goal is to avoid transferring responsibilities and competences to the lower administrative levels without providing the necessary decision-making powers and resources for their financing. In this regard, in 2006 the Council of Ministers adopted a Decentralisation Strategy for the period 2006–2015, which was renewed in 2016 for the period 2016–2025. The strategy sets out four main goals and priority areas to be pursued by 2025: the transfer of competences and functions from central to local government in key sectors; establishing an optimal distribution of resources between the central and local level; civil control over the activities of public institutions; and increased influence of regional institutions to conduct a coordinated regional development policy (Strategy.bg, 2021).

The top level in the administrative structure of the executive power in Bulgaria is the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers is a collegial body with general competence. It formulates, develops and implements the state policy in accordance with its constitutional powers and the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. The structure and composition of the Council of Ministers is adopted by a decision of the National Assembly on the proposal of the Prime Minister. Its current activities and the preparation of its meetings are carried out by the Administration of the Council of Ministers. In direct administrative connection with the Council of Ministers are:

  • The 17 ministries with some sectoral executive agencies (e.g. Executive Environment Agency), some of the agencies with specialised territorial administrations (e.g. Regional Directorates of Forestry);
  • Government agencies (e.g. State e-Government Agency);
  • Administrations of state commissions at the Council of Ministers (e.g. Commodity Exchange and Wholesale Markets State Commission);
  • Administrative structures established by a legislative act, which have functions in connection with the exercise of executive power by the Council of Ministers (e.g. National Inspectorate of Education);
  • State-Public consultative commissions (e.g. The State-Public Consultative Commission on the Problems of Road Safety);
  • Councils (e.g. National Demographic Policy Council) (Интегрирана информационна система на държавната администрация, n.d.).

The 28 regional administrations are subordinate to the Council of Ministers. According to the Constitution (Article 142) the 28 administrative regions (in Bulgarian: области) are the administrative unit for the conduct of regional policy, for the implementation of state government at the local level, and for the reconciliation of national and local interests.  Article 143 states:  ‘(1) Each administrative region shall be governed by a regional governor, assisted by a regional administration. (2) Each regional governor shall be appointed by the Council of Ministers. (3) The regional governors shall ensure the implementation of state policy, shall be responsible for the safeguarding of national interests, of law and public order, and shall exercise administrative control’ (National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria, n.d.). Discussions on optimising the functions and competences of the region’s administrations continue, as well as whether the regional governors should be elected (Dimitrova, 2021, Strategy.bg, 2021 (a), Strategy.bg, 2021 (b), ДИМИТРОВ*, n.d., Калинова, n.d.).

The lowest level of the administrative structure of the executive power is the municipal administration. The legal status of local self-government and local administration is determined in Chapter Seven of the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria. Article 136 states:

‘(1) The municipality shall be the basic local administrative unit wherein local self-government shall be implemented. Citizens shall participate in the governance of the municipality both through bodies of local self-government elected thereby and directly through a referendum or a general meeting of the community.’ Article 138 states: ‘A Municipal Council, which shall be elected by the community of the relevant municipality for a term of four years according to a procedure established by law, shall be a body of local self-government in the said municipality.’ Article 139 states: ‘(1) The [municipality’s] mayor shall be an executive authority in the respective municipality.  The mayor shall be elected by the community or by the Municipal Council for a term of four years according to a procedure established by law. (2) In exercising their activities, the mayor shall be guided by the law, the acts of the Municipal Council, and the decisions of the community.’ (National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria, n.d.).

The act on the administrative and territorial structure of the Republic of Bulgaria determines the lowest vertical levels in the executive power structure of a municipality – the Mayoralty and the Quarter. Quarters shall be established in the capital and in cities with over 300,000 people (Plovdiv and Varna); currently there are 24 in Sofia, six in Plovdiv and five in Varna (Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works (a), n.d.).

According to the current constitution Bulgaria shall be a republic with a parliamentary system of government and no autonomous territorial entities shall be admissible therein (Articles 1 and 2).  The Constitution establishes:

  • The basic principles on which the political system is built: the division of powers into legislative, executive and judicial (Article 8) and political pluralism (Article 11). 
  • The principles of a democratic electoral system: universal, equal and direct suffrage by secret ballot (Article 10).
  • Forms of ownership: private and public (Article 17).
  • The fundamental rights, freedoms and duties of citizens (Chapter Two).
  • The most important institutions in the country: the National Assembly (Chapter Three), President (Chapter Four), the Council of Ministers (Chapter Five), the judiciary (Chapter Six), local self-government and local administration (Chapter Seven) and the Constitutional Court (Chapter Eight) (National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria, n.d.).

The unicameral National Assembly is the supreme legislative body, exercising legislative power and parliamentary control. It consists of 240 National Representatives, who are directly elected for a term of four years. The National Assembly exercises the following constitutional powers (Article 84):

  • Pass, amend, expand, and repeal the laws.
  • Adopt the state budget and the report on its implementation.
  • Establish the taxes and determine the amount of central government taxes.
  • Schedule the elections for the President of the Republic.
  • Pass a resolution on the holding of a national referendum.
  • Elect and release the Prime Minister and, acting on a motion, the Council of Ministers; approve changes in the government, acting on a motion by the Prime Minister.
  • Create, transform and close down ministries, acting on a motion by the Prime Minister.
  • Elect and release the heads of the Bulgarian National Bank and of other institutions as specified by law.
  • Grant consent to agreements on government loans.
  • Resolve matters concerning any declaration of war and peace-making, etc. (National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria, n.d.).

The President is the head of state of the Republic of Bulgaria, and is elected directly by Bulgarian citizens for a term of five years; if re-elected, he or she may serve a maximum of two terms. The head of state does not belong to any of the three branches of government – legislative, executive and judicial – but interacts with each of them. The President has the right to schedule elections for the National Assembly or local self-governing bodies and a national referendum, as well as to mandate the Prime Minister-designate, nominated by the largest parliamentary group numerically, to form a government. The President is the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Bulgaria and may return a law to the National Assembly for further consideration, a demand which cannot be refused (President of the Republic of Bulgaria, n.d.).

The Council of Ministers is a central collegial body of the executive power with general competence and coordinates the activities of the other executive bodies to implement a unified state policy. It consists of the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Ministers and government ministers. It operates on the basis of the principles of legality, transparency, collegiality, cooperation and collaboration. The Council of Ministers:

  • directs and implements the domestic and foreign policy of the Republic of Bulgaria;
  • directs the implementation of the state budget;
  • ensures public order and national security;
  • determines the state policy in various spheres of public life, which are important for the overall development of the country;
  • directs and implements the policy of the Republic of Bulgaria vis-à-vis the European Union and NATO (Council of Ministers of the Republic of Bulgaria (b), n.d.).

It is a constitutional obligation of the judiciary to protect the rights and legitimate interests of citizens, legal persons, and the state (Article 117).  The judiciary is independent and has an autonomous budget. Justice shall be administered by a Supreme Court of Cassation, a Supreme Administrative Court, appellate courts, regional courts, military courts, and district courts (Article 119) (National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria, n.d.).

The two main sub-national levels of government in Bulgaria are the administrative regions and municipalities.

The 28 administrative regions (NUTS 3) are an intermediate administrative unit for the conduct of regional policy, for the implementation of state government at the local level, and for the reconciliation of national and local interests (Article 142).  Governance in the region is carried out by а regional governor, appointed by the Council of Ministers and assisted by a regional administration. The regional governors ensure the implementation of state policy, are responsible for the safeguarding of national interests, law and public order, and exercise administrative control (Article 143) (National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria, n.d.).  The regional governor exercises control over the legality of the acts of the municipal councils, unless otherwise provided by law. The regional governor can return the illegal acts for further debate in the municipal council or can contest them before the respective administrative court. Most central executive and judicial bodies have their own territorial subdivisions in each administrative region.

The 265 municipalities in Bulgaria are the basic local administrative unit wherein local self-government is implemented. Citizens participate in the governance of the municipality both through elected bodies of local self-government and directly through a referendum or a general meeting of the community (Article 136).  A municipal council, which is elected by the community of the relevant municipality for a term of four years according to a procedure established by law, is a body of local self-government within the municipality (Article 138).  The main body of the executive power in the municipality is the mayor, who is elected by the population or by the municipal council for a term of four years (Article 139) (National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria, n.d.).

The activities of the municipal council and the mayors are supported by the municipal administration. Component administrative-territorial units in the municipalities are the mayoralties and the quarters. The capital municipality is a territorial unit, which also has the status of administrative region. It combines the self-government of its population with the conduct of the state policy for the development of the capital (Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works (a), n.d.).

Between the national and regional level there are six regions forming level 2 (NUTS 2) according to the requirements of the common classification of territorial units for statistics, which is used in the European Union. These are planning regions and like NUTS 1 regions they are not administrative-territorial units (Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works (c), n.d.).

Spatial planning system

Historical development

The history of spatial planning in Bulgaria, in its modern sense (after the Second World War), can be divided into two main periods covering the political development of the country: the socialist period 1945-1989 and the transitional/post-socialist period after 1989.

During the socialist period (1945-1989), the People's Republic of Bulgaria was strongly influenced by the Soviet Union, including the spheres of spatial planning and architecture. The period is characterized by legal and constitutional changes on the Soviet model; control of the leading communist party over the legislature, executive and judiciary; nationalization of private property; intensive urbanization severely affecting mountainous and border regions; new large residential complexes to deal with urban housing problem; multiple administrative reforms; centrally planned, with an emphasis on intensive industrialization economy, etc. The planning process was centralized, technocratic, and subordinate to the national economic goals, with the support and influence of Soviet experts and planners, while no civic groups took part in the planning process. In 1949, a Planned Construction of the Settlement Act was adopted, which for the first time affected the problems outside urban areas and settlements. In 1973 a new Spatial and Urban Planning Act was adopted, which stimulated the development of important instruments like Unified Spatial Development Plan of Bulgaria (Simeonova Simeonova, 2017).

During the 1990s, the radically changed political, social and economic situation in Bulgaria sharply accelerated and changed the processes and conditions relevant to spatial development and planning. The period is characterized by: restoration of private property; restitution of expropriated property; privatization; intensive (mostly private) construction in large cities and tourist centres, often at the expense of areas provided for ecology, parks or agriculture; illegal construction; strong reduction of public sector investments; overcrowding and related problems in some urban areas, especially in Sofia; insufficient infrastructure capable of absorbing the newly emerging international transit traffic through the country; insufficiently qualified labour force in the administration and in the planning departments in the municipalities, in direct connection with the started processes of administrative and financial decentralization, administrative reforms in 1999 and the establishment of six NUTS 2 regions in 2000; first relations between Bulgaria and the EU, etc. It had become increasingly clear that the legislation in force in the 1990s with the relevant planning tools and procedures was out of date and developed in a radically different situation. In the first two decades of the transition period, many laws were adopted in the field of administrative structure, property, environment, cadastre, but the Regional Development Act/RDA (1999) and the Spatial Planning Act/SPA (2001) became the main reference for the planning process. The two acts have been amended many times, including in line with some EU requirements since 2007. They have different tools and different emphasis in planning - economic planning in the RDA and physical planning in the SPA. The Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works became the main institutions in spatial planning.

Legal basis

The term „spatial planning” is not available in the current constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria. However, it is a constitutional obligation of the state to create conditions for the balanced development of the various regions of Bulgaria and shall assist the territorial authorities and activities through financial, credit, and investment policies (Art. 20) (National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria, n.d.).The system of documents for the planning of spatial development, their scope, content, terms, conditions and the procedure of their assignment, drawing up, adoption and application shall be determined in the RDA. The constant discussions in recent years on the effectiveness of national regional and spatial development policy, the need for changes in key strategic and planning documents, the incoordination in the structure, functions and powers of planning bodies, and attempts to reduce the long-term interregional and intraregional disparities have led to significant changes in the RDA (adopted March 2020). Thus, the existing planning documents were significantly reduced, and new ones combining strategic and spatial planning were adopted (Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works (c), n.d.).

The new RDA aims to: direct the planning documents to solving the specific problems at the respective administrative levels; secure clear links and interactions between the strategic planning documents on the one hand, and between them and other important sectoral documents, on the other; improve monitoring, control and evaluation process, including the use of GIS; optimize the structure and expand the powers of regional development councils; foster the development of the national and regional strategic documents by a specialized company under the control of the Minister of Regional Development and Public Works with 100% state participation in the capital - National Centre for Regional Development (in Bulgarian: Национален център за териториално развитие); improve the condition in the territories with unfavourable socio-economic, geographical and demographic conditions (Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works (c), n.d.).

Spatial planning authorities and Interdependencies between planning levels

Chapter Four of the current Regional Development Act defines the main planning authorities and their responsibilities.

 

The main national authority is the Council of Ministers, which adopts the national and regional strategic planning documents on the proposal of the Minister of Regional Development and Public Works. Ministers and heads of departments take into consideration the assumptions in the national and regional strategic planning documents when conducting the sector policies within the framework of their competences. Among the most important responsibilities of the Minister of Regional Development and Public Works are to (Art. 17): conduct state regional development policy and ensure its harmonization with other sectoral and horizontal policies; define the policy on integration of principles and strategies for sustainable urban development in the state regional development policy on a national, regional and local level; organize the drawing up and monitor the application of the national and regional strategic planning documents; organize and control the regional coordination of implementation of operational programmes, co-financed by the European Union funds; assist in the harmonization of Bulgarian legislation with the regulations of the European Union Law in the sphere of regional development and spatial planning, etc. (Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works (c), n.d.).

 

The various responsibilities delegated to the Minister of Regional Development and Public Works further strengthen the emphasis on the coordinating and harmonizing role of this ministry. In carrying out his activities, the Minister may establish councils and working groups as expert consultative bodies for solving specific issues of special and sectoral competence. Examples of such expert and consultative bodies at the beginning of 2021 are: Public Council, Council of Regional Policy, Consultative Council, Expert Consultative Council on Geo-Protection, etc. An important structure related to the coordinating role of the Minister is the Political Cabinet, which provides the links of the minister and the ministry with other government bodies, local authorities, the legislature and the public. The activities of the Political Cabinet can be supported by various expert and technical assistants, as well as specially invited civil servants (www.mrrb.bg, n.d. (a)).

 

The main regional authority in the planning regions of level 2 (NUTS 2) are the Regional development councils/RDC, that coordinate the implementation of the state regional development policy (Art. 18). Each RDC consists of a chairman, deputy chairman and members and is supported by expert staff. Members are all regional governors, as well as mayors and/or chairmen of municipal councils from the respective NUTS 2 regions. The RDC (Art.19): discuss and approve the Integrated territorial development strategies of the Level 2 Planning regions and performs functions for management, coordination, monitoring and control of its implementation; perform an advisory function in the preparation of plans for integrated development of municipalities in the region, etc. (Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works (c), n.d.).

The 28 governors of regions (NUTS 3) assist the municipal administrations in the development and implementation of their plans for integrated development and render assistance at the implementation, monitoring and assessment of the respective Integrated territorial development strategy of the Level 2 Planning region (Art. 21). They also support the preparation of projects in accordance with the objectives and priorities of the main strategic documents concerning the region. The governors are chairmen of their respective RDC, one of the main tasks of which is to set up standing commissions in the field of spatial planning, land development and construction, industry and new technologies, transport and energy, tourism and environment, healthcare, education, labour market, etc. (Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works (c), n.d.).

The main authorities at the local level are the municipalities’ mayors and the municipal councils (Art. 23 and 24). The mayors organize the preparation of the local planning and strategic documents; manage, organize and control the activity related to the implementation of plans for integrated development of municipalities; submit annual report on monitoring of implementation and provide publicity and transparency of plans for integrated development of municipalities. The Municipal councils discuss and adopt the plan for integrated development; control the provision of compliance of the plan with the master spatial plan; and approve mayors’ annual reports on monitoring of the plan for integrated development (Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works (c), n.d.).

Spatial planning instruments

According to the latest changes (from 2020) in the RDA, the instruments for regional development strategic planning have been reduced to three (Chapter Three of the RDA) (Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works (c), n.d.). Their main function is to integrate the regional and the spatial development in order to reduce the imbalance in the national territory, taking into account the territorial potential and ensuring the development of cross-border, transnational and interregional cooperation. The three documents are hierarchically subordinated and shall be used for: determination of existing problems, needs and potential opportunities for the development of regions, municipalities and settlements; identification of projects contributing to the achievement of national targets and priorities of regional and local development; planning and implementation of integrated approaches for territorial and urban development; coordination of sectoral and horizontal policies at territorial levels; ensuring coherence of the implementation of the state policy for regional development with the strategic documents at national level, etc.

(1) The National concept for regional and spatial development/NCRSD becomes the main national document for integrated regional and spatial development at the national level. The NCRSD is developed for a period of up to 15 years by the National Centre for Regional Development under the control of the Minister of Regional Development and Public Works and is adopted by the Council of Ministers. The NCRSD (Art. 10): determines the long-term perspectives, goals and priorities of the state policy for reduction of the imbalance in the development of the national territory and its compliance with the other sectoral and horizontal policies; determines the strategy for development of the national territory and its interrelations with neighbouring countries and regions; takes into account the existing international strategic documents in the field of regional and spatial development, the Maritime Spatial Plan of the Republic of Bulgaria and the national strategic documents for the development of sectoral and horizontal policies. The NCRSD shall contain: analysis of the demographic, socio-economic, ecological and territorial-urban conditions and the significant problems and potentials for development; forecasts, alternative scenarios and spatial models for the development of the national territory; vision, goals and priorities for regional and spatial development; spatial structure with central, highly urbanized territories, peripheral and rural sparsely urbanized territories, territories for protection of natural and cultural values; functional-hierarchical structure of the settlement network; major and minor axes of development; transport and infrastructure corridors and sites of international and national importance; strategic guidelines for development and updating of the Integrated territorial development strategies of the Level 2 Planning regions, etc.

(2) The Integrated territorial development strategies of the Level 2 (NUTS 2) Planning regions/ITDS are developed for a period of 7 years by the National Centre for Regional Development under the control of the Minister of Regional Development and Public Works, approved by the Regional Development Councils and adopted by the Council of Ministers (Art. 11). The ITDS determine the medium-term goals, priorities and perspectives for sustainable integrated regional and local development on the territory of the respective planning region in accordance with the provisions of the NCRSD and other sectoral and horizontal policies. The ITDS coordinate the forecasts of sectoral strategies and documents at regional level and take into account the investment intentions for development for the territory of the region. The ITDS shall contain: analysis of the economic, social and environmental situation, the needs and potentials for development of the respective planning region; forecasts, alternative scenarios and spatial models; vision, goals and priorities for regional and spatial development; spatial structure with central, highly urbanized territories, peripheral and rural sparsely urbanized territories, territories for protection of natural and cultural values and territories with specific characteristics and problems; functional-hierarchical structure of the settlement network; major and minor axes of development; transport and infrastructure corridors and sites of international and national importance; measures for integrated territorial reconstruction and development; necessary activities and indicators for monitoring and evaluation of the ITDS, etc.

During its more than 60 years of existence, the National Centre for Regional Development implements mainly interdisciplinary projects utilizing analyses, approaches and solutions from various fields and economic sectors. Therefore, in the development of ITDS are taken into account on the one hand all major national strategic documents, and on the other - regional sectoral strategies in the fields of economic development, health, education, science, social services, transport, water, energy, tourism, environment, etc.

(3) The plans for integrated development/PID for the territorial level of the municipalities are developed for a period of 7 years, adopted by the Municipal council on the proposal of the mayor and the approved PID is presented by the mayor to the respective Regional development council (NUTS 3) (Art. 13). The PID defines the medium-term goals and priorities for sustainable development of the municipality and their relations with other municipalities in accordance with the ITDS. The PID provide spatial, temporal and factual coordination and integration of various policies and planning resources to achieve the defined goals for lasting improvement of the economic, social and environmental condition of the municipal territory. The PID shall contain: analysis of the economic, social and environmental situation, the needs and potentials for development of the respective municipality; development goals and priorities; partners, stakeholders and forms of participation in the preparation and implementation of the plan; program for realization of the plan; necessary activities and indicators for monitoring and evaluation of the plan, etc. (Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works (c), n.d.).

The methodological guidelines for the development and implementation of PID, adopted by the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works in 2020, require that the plans are prepared in compliance with the principles of partnership and cooperation and the provision of information and publicity. It is necessary to identify stakeholders and participants in the process of forming and implementing local policy for integrated sustainable development. It is important that stakeholders are involved both at the stage of development and adoption of PID and in the realization of its goals and priorities. It is obligatory for PID to be discussed and coordinated with: the interested bodies and organizations; economic and social partners; representatives of legal entities related to the development of the municipality; civil society; environmental partners and organizations responsible for promoting social inclusion, fundamental rights, the rights of people with disabilities, gender equality and non-discrimination (www.mrrb.bg, n.d. (b)).

How plans are elaborated or how planning instruments are used

The National concept for regional and spatial development/NCRSD and the Integrated territorial development strategies of the NUTS 2 Planning regions/ITDS are developed by the National Centre for Regional Development under the control of the Minister of Regional Development and Public Works and are adopted by the Council of Ministers (National Centre for Regional Development, n.d.). The plans for integrated development/PID for the territorial level of the municipalities are adopted by the Municipal council on the proposal of the mayor and the approved PID is presented by the mayor to the respective Regional development council (NUTS 2).

During the development of the three documents, an opportunity for wide public discussion and coordination is provided. The Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works organizes public consultations on the NCRSD project and informs stakeholders (ministries, state and executive agencies, district governors, local authorities, etc.) about the results. In order to ensure information and publicity of the implementation of the NCRSD, an interim (in the middle of the period – 2022) and final report (no later than one year after the period - 2025) shall be prepared taking into account the results of the interim and subsequent evaluation of its implementation in accordance with Articles 33 and 34 of RDA. The Regulations for the Implementation of the RDA adopted in 2020 specify that the development of the ITDS is carried out with the participation of the interested bodies and organizations (ministries, state agencies, district governors and local authorities, employers’ organizations, academia, etc.), with the economic and social partners, as well as with individuals and representatives of legal entities involved in the development of the region. The PID is discussed and agreed with a wide range of stakeholders involved in the development of the municipality, and the mayor is obliged to publish on the website of the municipality the draft plan and to schedule a public discussion (ПРАВИЛНИК ЗА ПРИЛАГАНЕ НА ЗАКОНА ЗА РЕГИОНАЛНОТО РАЗВИТИЕ, n.d.).

Use of ‘soft planning’

A recent example of ‘soft’ and non-statutory planning is the update of the National Concept for Spatial Development in 2019, where the areas at risk (demographic, economic, ecological) and the areas for protection (of the landscape, of the natural and cultural values) are updated and enriched with new informal areas. The concept defines these informal areas as a spatial system of functionally connected areas, characterized by common or similar conditions and development goals. The definition of these areas is related to the change from a ‘sectoral approach’ to an ‘integrated territorial approach’, which is oriented towards the utilization of own resources and potentials of functionally defined territories, as well as towards spatial integration of public measures. Thus, the idea of the national spatial development policy is to formulate its goals and instruments depending on the specifics of the individual functional areas, striving to exploit their potential. In NCSD (2019) these areas with specific characteristics, problems and potentials are: a group of areas with social orientation (8 groups with a total of 55 municipalities from 18 administrative regions) and another group of areas for stimulated development (3 main urbanization axes and 1 potential axe). The identification of such areas makes it possible to focus the priorities of sectoral policies (but without being legally binding and obligatory) and thus will open ways and approaches for targeted and integrated policy to preserve their specificity and overcome the accumulated problems. These informal areas are coastal areas (Black Sea and Danube), mountainous areas, border areas, areas at risk (natural, ecological, demographic and economic risk) and areas for the conservation of landscapes, natural and cultural values. The Danube and Black Sea coastal areas are defined and institutionalized and have internationally consolidated strategic development documents, while the other informal areas are mostly problematic. Although there are few differences between the NCSD and the international documents on the Danube and the Black Sea in the territorial scope of the coastal informal zones (the NCSD considers informal only the municipalities directly bordering the Danube and the Black Sea), the priorities will be in line with the latest international strategic documents (Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works (b), n.d.).

Influence of EU

An example of the EU’s influence on the Bulgarian planning system is the regionalization (NUTS) in accordance with the requirements of the common classification of territorial units for statistical purposes. Currently these are 2 NUTS 1 regions, 6 NUTS 2 regions, 28 NUTS 3 regions and 265 LAU 1 municipalities. The NUTS 1 and NUTS 2 regions are not formal administrative-territorial units, but serve statistical purposes. For the purposes of spatial planning for NUTS 1 regions, no targeted policy and preparation of separate strategic and planning documents is envisaged. Changes in the policy for spatial development of Bulgaria, especially after the accession to the EU, are also observed in: creation of two new acts related to the regional development and the spatial planning in the pre-accession period; changed institutional framework following the principle of subsidiarity; increased role of the regions; new principles of planning and programming of regional development; coordination of sectoral policies; introduction of new, hierarchically related planning and strategic instruments; high importance of EU-funding programs; growing importance of cross-border cooperation; increasing emphasis on environmental protection in the planning process; and others.

Spatial planning challenges

Among the main challenges of spatial planning in Bulgaria can be summarized: uneven spatial distribution of population and economy; excessive development of the capital; depopulation of disadvantaged regions; constantly changing legislation; centralized approach with strong competencies at national level and weak decentralization; excessive construction and  overcrowding in large cities and resorts; illegal construction; underestimation of the environmental factor in planning; insufficiently developed transport infrastructure for the international transit traffic; infrastructural problems, especially in small settlements; low-skilled workforce and decision makers; relatively low control over spatial development; excessive number of strategic documents and a weak link between them; insufficient public participation in the planning process; friendship and kinship relations in decision making especially in small municipalities; insufficient financial resources for municipalities; and others.

Important stakeholders

Institution/ stakeholder/ authorities Research field/ Competencies/ Administrative area
Council of Ministers (Министерски съвет) Department “Strategic planning and programming”
Department “Monitoring and analysis”
Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works
(Министерство на регионалното развитие и благоустройството)
Directorate General „Strategic Planning and Programs for Regional Development“
Directorate „Territorial Planning and Administrative-Territorial Structure“
National Centre for
Regional Development
(Национален център за териториално развитие)
Consulting company in the fields of regional and spatial planning, urban design and many related issues under procurement of Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works
Directorate for National Construction
Control

(Дирекция за национален строителен контрол)
Control over the legality of the execution and use of the constructions, under procurement of Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works

Attachments

  • Map Bulgaria

  • Planning system Bulgaria

  • System of powers Bulgaria

List of references

References

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Discussion