Reciting a description heard repeatedly over the past 10 years, both government and opposition figures in Bulgaria described a European Commission report on the country’s performance – or lack of performance – against corruption and organised crime as “objective”.
There were, predictably, also differences among government and political figures in interpreting the finding of the EC’s report, released on January 25, about Bulgaria’s performance in the 10 years it has been subject to a Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, since it joined the EU.
The CVM was put in place regarding Bulgaria and Romania in January 2007, to bring the two then-newcomers to the EU up to the bloc’s standards in justice and home affairs – specifically, in judicial reform and in fighting organised crime and corruption.
Justice Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva, a member of the Borissov cabinet that will leave office on January 27 as Bulgaria heads towards parliamentary elections in March, said that the EC report was “objective”.
Zaharieva, the second person to hold the justice portfolio in the current Borissov government after the November 2015 resignation of Hristo Ivanov, said that the criticism in the EC CVM report was directed at low- and high-level corruption.
She thanked the EC for “acknowledging the achievements of the government and the efforts invested in the implementation of the judicial reform strategy and the recommendations the EC repeatedly made.”
Zaharieva said that the report had noted “a really good pace” of reform in recent years, adding that the report outlined the years 2012, 2015 and 2016 as positive (all years that Borissov’s GERB party has been in power).
There were six benchmarks regarding which steps had to be taken, and if these steps were taken, the CVM monitoring would be suspended, she said.
Meglena Kouneva, a deputy prime minister in the outgoing government and the leader of a constituent party of the Reformist Bloc, again hit out at the National Assembly for failing to approve the anti-corruption bill that she had tabled.
This bill has been approved at first reading, at the second attempt to do so, but the current National Assembly will be dissolved without Kouneva’s bill having reached second-reading stage.
“This is the first law that the new National Assembly should accept,” Kouneva said.
Interior Minister and senior GERB party member Roumyana Buchvarova reacted to the EC CVM report by saying that the successful practice of her ministry in dealing with internal corruption was recommended to be applied by other departments.
Kristian Vigenin, of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, said that the EC report was “realistic, factual and objective”.
Noting that the report covered the past decade, of which for close to seven years Borissov’s GERB had been in power, Vigenin said that the lack of real prospects to eliminate the CVM was another failure of the GERB government.
Vigenin said that it seemed now that Bulgaria will hold the rotating presidency of the EU in the first six months of 2018 while still subject to the CVM monitoring.
In the latest report, the EC was saying that in practice, the achievements of Bulgaria in the fight against organised crime and corruption at the highest levels were low and progress was minimal. The “remains a challenge” terminology used in the EC report was one of the most negative terms, Vigenin said.
Tsvetan Tsvetanov, leader of the parliamentary group of GERB and who was Bulgaria’s interior minister from 2009 to early 2013, said that the National Assembly could be congratulated on the efforts that it had undertaken to prepare the strategy for judicial reform, constitutional changes and the choice of the chief judicial inspector.
Tsvetanov said that anti-corruption legislation and “much more serious, an effective fight against corruption” would be a key priority for the next Parliament.
Like Kouneva, the Reformist Bloc’s Naiden Zelenogorski also highlighted the fact that the current National Assembly had not given second-reading approval to Kouneva’s anti-corruption bill. Only the Reformist Bloc and GERB had remained firmly behind the anti-corruption bill, according to Zelenogorski.
Chetin Kazak of the opposition Movement for Rights and Freedoms expressed hope that the next National Assembly would learn a lesson from the mistakes made so far and would come up with a suitable and effective law to combar corruption. He described the law tabled by the current Cabinet as “conceptually flawed”.
(Image: Sergio Roberto Bichara/sxc.hu)