Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev said on August 6 that he will challenge the recent amendments to the Special Surveillance Means Act, which regulates when and how law enforcement can use eavesdropping, at the Constitutional Court.
Plevneliev vetoed the amendments on July 25, saying that while he welcomed the goals of increased oversight on the use of eavesdropping and limiting their unjustified use, some of the provisions of the amended law overstepped the constitutional separation of powers between different branches of government, potentially infringing on the authority of the judiciary branch.
Parliament overturned the presidential veto on August 2, the last day of the summer session, before going on recess.
On August 6, Plevneliev said that Parliament “has shown recently a clear desire to step onto the area of competence of other branches of government.”
“Unfortunately, the debate in the National Assembly concerning the veto on the Special Surveillance Means Act once again showed the degree of political confrontation in the political life of the country in recent months. The declared readiness for dialogue, discussion and argumentation remains an empty word,” Plevneliev said.
He said that the separation of powers and an independent judiciary were cornerstones of the rule of law that “cannot be made conditional, regardless of what are the goals of amendments in any given law.”
This is why, Plevneliev said, he intended to use his constitutional right and challenge the bill in the Constitutional Court. If the court decrees the challenge admissible, it has to rule on the issue within a period of two months.
The two specific examples given by Plevneliev in his reasoning for imposing the veto were the national bureau tasked with oversight of all eavesdropping – not yet created, but mandated by the amendments – and Parliament.
Under the amended eavesdropping law, the bureau will have the right to give outright orders to the institutions that authorise the use of wire-taps, namely the courts, and carry out such activities. “The introduction of the legislative possibility for an institution outside the judiciary to interfere in the internal decisions of the magistrates threatens the independence of the judicial system and could drastically impede the functioning of those institutions,” Plevneliev said at the time.
In the same vein, allowing MPs to oversee court orders and interfere in court matters was unacceptable, he said.
Plevneliev’s veto was overturned by Parliament with the minimum amount of votes necessary – 121 MPs voted in favour of doing so, including 11 votes from ultra-nationalist party Ataka.
The party denies accusations of working in concert with the ruling coalition between the socialists and the ethnic Turk Movement for Rights and Freedoms (a frequent target for Ataka leader Volen Siderov’s attacks over the years), but routinely provides enough MPs on Parliament benches to ensure parliamentary quorum.