The European Court of Justice ruled on April 23 that Bulgaria breached several EU directives in the telecommunications sector, failing to implement recommendations made by the European Commission as part of the infringement proceedings.
The Commission referred Bulgaria’s case to the ECJ in January 2013, arguing that in assigning digital broadcast spectrum, the procedure followed by Bulgaria was based on disproportionately restrictive award conditions, leading to the exclusion of potential candidates.
The European Commission said at that time that the tenders called by Bulgarian authorities hampered competition in the future Bulgarian digital terrestrial television (DTT) infrastructure market, in breach of the applicable EU Directives on electronic communications.
Bulgaria’s digital switchover process has been beset by controversy from the start, with the socialist-led tripartite cabinet accused in 2009 of attempting to rig the process to favour specific bidders in the tenders to build digital multiplexes – the facilities where multiple channels are compressed to fit in one broadcast frequency.
The constitutional court declared the tenders unconstitutional, but the ruling came too late to cancel the tenders and the court does not have the power to annul the tenders.
Both companies that acquired the licences to digital multiplexes were linked by reports in Bulgarian media to Tsvetan Vassilev, the majority shareholder in Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB), who allegedly used loans from the bank to his investment vehicles to acquire all the digital multiplex licences in Bulgaria.
CCB lost its banking licence last year and was declared insolvent earlier this week, while Vassilev is wanted on charges of embezzlement and is fighting extradition in Serbia; he denies any wrongdoing.
A tender to award another multiplex licence was scheduled in the spring of 2013, but the matter was quietly dropped once a new socialist-led ruling axis took office following early elections in May 2013.
Going forward, Bulgaria must implement EC recommendations made during the infringement proceedings or face hefty fines.
(General view of the buildings of the Court of Justice of the European Communities)