EC report to slam Bulgaria’s ‘disappointing and fragile’ judicial reform, fight against crime

Bulgaria is to be handed a report by the European Commission that slams the country’s overall progress in judicial reform, the fight against organised crime and corruption as “disappointing and fragile”.

The report is due to be released on January 22 2014 as part of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism process begun in January 2007, when the Bulgaria joined the European Union, to bring the country up to the bloc’s standards in judicial and home affairs.

The draft report covers the past 18 months, during which time Bulgaria has had three governments – the centre-right GERB government that left office in March 2013, the two-month caretaker cabinet ahead of the May 2013 national parliamentary elections, and the current ruling axis in which the Bulgarian Socialist Party holds the mandate.

In what is sure to be picked up by the opposition, a draft of the EC report notes that in Bulgaria, there are still almost no results in the fight against organised crime, corruption and contract killings.

The Supreme Judicial Council is seen as neither reformed nor an independent body.

The draft report says that most events in the area of justice are more cause for concern than relief in society, adding that important appointments had to be cancelled because of doubts about the candidates. This is certain to be interpreted as a reference to the massively controversial abortive appointment by the Bulgarian Socialist Party-Movement for Rights and Freedoms ruling axis of Delyan Peevski as head of the State Agency for National Security, an event that unleashed widely-supported anti-government protests.

The Peevski controversy has hardly been the only one in the field, considering the debacle around the appointments of constitutional judges.

The draft sees the anti-corruption commission Borkor as a failure and criticises the commission on conflict of interest.

Also coming in for criticism is the process of drafting the new Penal Code.

This draft has come under fire from human rights groups, NGOs and the opposition and has prompted a series of media reports based on criticisms of poor drafting, ambiguities and what critics see as potential abuses of human rights. Notwithstanding the controversies around the draft, it has been approved by the Cabinet, albeit with stated promises by Zinaida Zlatanova, the justice minister in the BSP government, of further consultations on top of the removal or clarification of some of the more disputed provisions.

The report sees some positive steps, including the weakening of the power of the executive in relation to the judiciary, the management actions of the Prosecutor-General, the suspension of controversial donations to the police and some initial steps by the Supreme Judicial Council to reduce the workload of magistrates.

There are only passing references in the draft to the allegations about unlawful electronic eavesdropping and around the additional ballot papers found at a printing house in Kostinbrod on the eve of the May 2013 national parliamentary election.

The EC again makes a series of recommendations for reforms that Bulgaria must carry out, most of them the same as in the July 2012 CVM report.

A further report will come out about a year from now, with the precise date to be decided by the next European Commission. The term of office of the current EC ends on October 1 2014 and a new one will be elected after the May 22 to 25 2014 European Parliament elections.

Kristian Vigenin, BSP government foreign minister, has told reporters that he would like to see a change to the CVM system. Local media quoted him as saying that he would like talks with the next EC about effective monitoring that no longer brings more harm than help.

He said that his position that the mechanism should be removed was his own and there was no decision by the government on the issue.

Further, Bulgaria would want there to be similar reports on all EU member states, not just Bulgaria and Romania.

Vigenin said that in 2018, Bulgaria would hold the rotating presidency of the EU and, according to him, it was logical that in that capacity, the country would no longer be covered by such a mechanism or still not be a part of the EU’s Schengen visa zone.

It seems that the defence mechanism of the current ruling axis will be to emphasise that the reports covers a timeframe of three governments and two parliaments – the strategy of the BSP administration being that the GERB opposition cannot hurl blame over a report that includes a period in which it was in power.

(Photo: Sébastien Bertrand)




The Sofia Globe staff

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