A draft bill meant to create a new government body to fight corruption and conflict of interest failed to win enough support to pass at first reading in Bulgarian Parliament on September 3, marking the latest setback in the ruling coalition’s continued efforts to push through EU-mandated reforms.
More than eight years after joining the European Union, Bulgaria remains under monitoring by the European Commission through the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism and has been repeatedly told that it must do better in fighting corruption and reforming its judiciary.
As part of the latest reform strategy, the government has sought to merge the cabinet’s anti-corruption office Borkor and the conflict of interest commission, as well as parts of the National Audit Office that investigate elected officials’ asset declarations.
That bill, one of the signature initiatives of Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kouneva, has received only 101 votes in support on September 3, as two junior partners in the ruling coalition chose to abstain. After the vote, Kouneva said that “the bill has frightened a large part of MPs with the potential implications it can have on their interests and the interests of those whom they protect.”
The debates that preceded the vote saw opposition parties accuse Kouneva and the government of seeking to create an “apparatus of political repression”, with ultra-nationalist leader Volen Siderov – no stranger to hyperbole on and off the House floor – going as far as claiming that the new body would be “a new Gestapo”.
Socialist leader Mihail Mikov also questioned the efficiency of the new body, given the poor track record of the existing institutions, saying that the bill only amounted to “a show of political will” with little substance behind it.
Socialist splinter ABC and nationalist Patriotic Front, both of them part of the ruling coalition, said that they saw too many flaws in the bill to support it. Although this was not the first time that junior coalition partners have failed to present a united front in Parliament, this particular occasion is likely to rankle more with the Reformist Bloc – a grouping of centre-right parties, including the one headed by Kouneva – that has campaigned on a ticket to pursue reforms, but has little to show for its efforts after more than 10 months in government.