Bulgarian parties compromise on judicial reform with deal on new proposal

Six of Bulgaria’s political parties and coalitions have reached a deal on tabling a fresh proposal on constitutional changes regarding judicial reform, with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov insisting that the compromise would not negatively affect judicial reform.

The compromise was reached on July 23, a day ahead of the planned tabling of the constitutional amendments in Parliament.

The parties to the deal are Borissov’s GERB party, the majority partner in government, and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, government minority partner Reformist Bloc, the Patriotic Front, Bulgarian Democratic Centre and socialist breakaway ABC.

The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party rejected participation in the deal and far-right Ataka, one of Parliament’s two smallest parties, excluded itself from talks on the amendments, on which Borissov launched consultations at the beginning of this week, with the stated aim of securing all-party support.

According to Borissov, the deal was “an exceptional sign to the Bulgarian people and Europe that there are political parties and leaders in Bulgaria who swallow their egos when it comes to national interests”.

Similar phrasing was used by MRF leader Lyutvi Mestan, who told reporters that the parties had shown “that they have the will to put national interests above party ego”.

A turning point in what for several days had appeared to be a series of stalemates came when Reformist Bloc parliamentary co-leader Radan Kanev said, amid the various talks on the afternoon of July 23, that “we are on the verge of a historic compromise”.

After a meeting of parliamentary group leaders reached their compromise on the proposals for constitutional amendments, Kanev said that a new amendment bill would be tabled.

This bill will be tabled by GERB, the Reformist Bloc, MRF, Patriotic Front, Bulgarian Democratic Centre and ABC.

The amendments would have at least the 160 votes out of 240 members of the National Assembly to be approved, while Kanev said that it depended on a final decision by ABC whether there would be 180 votes in favour – a number that could open the way for fast-track approval of the changes.

Pending final drafting of the amendments, it is expected that they will include three main points, the sub-division of the Supreme Judicial Council into colleges of judges and prosecutors, direct election of judiciary members of the SJC, and the Inspectorate receiving powers to inspect the properties of members of the bench and to monitor conflicts of interest.

However, the old quotas for arriving at the composition of the SJC, split between those from judges, prosecutors and political appointments, will remain unchanged.

An MRF proposal to request an opinion on the changes from the Constitutional Court between the first and second readings of the proposed legislation in Parliament was accepted.

The agreement on July 23 came after public protests in favour of judicial reform, during which participants expressed indignation about moves by the MRF that they see as intended to negate attempts at judicial reform.

The Reformist Bloc, which since its entry to Parliament and government in late 2014 has been a driver of attempts at judicial reform, ended up facing a choice of seeing amendments tabled but lacking sufficient votes, or compromising with the MRF – which, similarly to the protesters, it had intimated was trying to render the changes meaningless.

The Reformist Bloc took the route of a deal with the MRF – which already had secured agreements with GERB and with the Patriotic Front.

Reportedly, the deal includes that individual colleges of the Supreme Judicial Council, and not the total plenum, will appoint and dismiss judges and prosecutors. This has been a key demand for those seeking genuine reform.

The outcome of the talks indicates that the MRF had stepped back from the large-scale pruning of the legislation as initially proposed by the Justice Ministry.

However, it appears that several other MRF demands have been met, including dropping a provision that would have reduced the term of office of the SJC, and dropping a provision on secret ballots on personnel decisions.



The Sofia Globe staff

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