Bulgaria’s economic performance was significantly affected by the global financial crisis. Despite the fact that subsequent annual growth rates have been robust its GDP was 52% of the EU average in 2018. The country had recovered its pre-crisis employment levels by 2017, and its 5.2% unemployment rate in 2018 compared favourably to the EU average of 6.9%. However, levels of poverty, social exclusion and income inequality are still among the highest in the EU and regional disparities are growing. Five of Bulgaria's six planning regions are among the 20 poorest regions in the EU, whilst the Sofia region (accounting for just 18.8 % of the population) generates nearly half of the country’s GDP.

Bulgaria is a Modest Innovator according to the European Innovation Scoreboard, ranking 27th in the EU in terms of innovation performance. Its GERD (expenditure on R&D as a % of GDP) was 0.75% in 2017. The public sector’s R&D spending is among the lowest in the EU amounting to only 0.21 % of GDP in 2017, far from the EU average of 0.69 %. Business R&D expenditure is 0.53% of GDP, with the private sector the main actor within the national innovation system. Nevertheless, Bulgarian enterprises show low levels of innovation, competitiveness and collaboration with academia. The country has a large number of universities and research institutes, but most of them show low performance in research and production of high-quality scientific publications.

Bulgaria has a National Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialisation 2014–2020 as well as some regional / local S3s (Severen – Tsentralen Region, Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna and Ruse). The national strategy identifies four thematic priority areas for the whole country: Mechatronics and clean technologies; Informatics and information and communication technologies; Industry for a healthy life and bio-technology; and New technologies in creative and recreational industries.

The Bulgarian S3 is managed at the central level by the strategic body. This is supported by an Interinstitutional Working Group and an Administrative Partnership Network. A central technical body ensures overall coordination of S3 governance in the country and the bottom-up body consists of the centrally appointed Regional Partnership Network and other stakeholders.