Even before its official release on July 18 of the European Commission’s report on Bulgaria’s performance in the past five years in reforming its judiciary and fighting organised crime and corruption, the report prompted brickbats from local opposition politicians and a pledge from the socialists to seek a motion of no confidence in the country’s centre-right government.
Bulgaria joined the European Union in January 2007 but along its neighbour Romania, which joined at the same time, was made subject to a Co-operation and Verification Mechanism to bring the bloc’s two newcomers up to EU standards in justice and home affairs.
At the time of accession, a socialist-led tripartite coalition was in office, but in the 2009 elections it was defeated by Boiko Borissov’s GERB party, whose main pledges included an effective fight against organised crime and corruption, areas where the socialists – like most previous post-communist administrations – had failed to make any significantly lasting dent.
There have been a succession of reports under the CVM, which during the time of the Borissov administration have stated that a genuine political will to fight graft and reform the judiciary existed, and the reports have made a series of recommendations to produce effective results in these areas.
Bulgaria’s continuing shortcomings in reform of the judiciary and against organised crime and corruption have been an ongoing theme in resistance to admitting the country to the Schengen visa zone, even though Bulgaria has met the technical criteria to do so. The Netherlands has continued to hold out against Bulgaria’s Schengen accession pending a satisfactorily positive report under the CVM.
However, in a blow for the Borissov government a year ahead of regular national parliamentary elections, it appeared that CVM monitoring would continue for some time and the European Commission saw Bulgaria’s results in justice and home affairs as still inadequate to EU standards.
Final drafts of the report ahead of its official release noted that most Bulgarians saw organised crime and corruption as important problems of the country, with shortcomings in the judicial system close behind.
In the final days before the report, there has been an unedifying public battle involving the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) – a body earmarked for serious reform when its new members are chosen – and its dismissal of a judge, which the council says was ordered because of her procedural failings but which the council’s detractors say was done because of her public criticism of the SJC.
A draft of the EC report acknowledges that Bulgaria is on the way to attaining the objectives of the CVM, provided it steps up the reform process. The draft pointed out weaknesses in judicial reform, and the fight against organised crime and corruption, an approach that prompted the socialists to describe this as a “red card” for the Borissov government that justified a motion of no confidence.
Borissov’s government rules as a minority government, customarily able to muster sufficient additional votes in Parliament to serve out its term should it wish to do so rather than call ahead-of-term elections.
The European Commission, according to final drafts, is givingBulgariamore time to carry out outstanding reform recommendations and will produce a further report at the end of 2013.
Ahead of formal approval by the Commission, a final draft criticised Bulgaria’s lack of a co-ordinated approach, efficient policy direction, clear action to defend judicial independence, and spoke of important structural, procedural, organisational and systemic failures.
The draft said that Bulgaria responded to external pressure by achieving important steps, but said that the fact that external pressure was needed called into question the sustainability and irreversibility of change.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)