It is time for Bulgaria to move to the next stage by turning its strategies on judicial reform and the fight against corruption into action on the ground and the delivery of concrete results, European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said on January 27 2016, as the EC released its latest report on the country’s performance under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism.
The CVM was put in place in Bulgaria and in Romania when the two countries joined the European Union in January 2007, to bring them up to standard in the judiciary and in the fight against organised crime and corruption.
The January 2016 CVM report by the EC said “that many of the recommendations in the 2015 CVM report still require action underlines a lack of determination in the efforts of the Bulgarian institutions in key areas of judicial governance”.
Timmermans said, “Last year Bulgaria took some important steps to put reform back onto the agenda. Now it is time to move to the next stage by turning the strategies on judicial reform and the fight against corruption into action on the ground and delivering concrete results.
He said that the amendments adopted to Bulgaria’s constitution to reform the judicial system, confirming political determination to carry forward the judicial reform strategy, should be quickly followed up through the adoption of the remaining legislative initiatives.
The Commission welcomes Bulgaria’s wish to draw on further technical assistance and expertise to support the reform process, and the Commission has put in place the necessary means, Timmermans said.
“2016 must be the year when Bulgarians feel progress on the ground. Seeing real results in tackling high level corruption and organised crime cases remains Bulgaria’s biggest challenge and must be the highest priority,” he said.
In 2015 Bulgaria took some important steps to put reform back on the agenda, following a period of political instability which appeared to be stalling progress. The two national strategies on judicial reform and the fight against corruption represent a detailed blueprint for action. It is clear, however, that the translation of these strategies into concrete and tangible progress will be a major challenge for 2016, the EC CVM report said.
In December Bulgaria amended its constitution. While the amendments included some significant changes from the text originally proposed, their adoption still represents an important step towards a reform of the Supreme Judicial Council, which provides the overall direction for the Bulgarian judicial system. This now needs to be followed up, so that the full range of measures planned in the judicial reform strategy becomes law, the report said.
Other initiatives have faced setbacks, most notably the anti-corruption strategy. The draft law intended to put in place a new unified anti-corruption authority has been rejected in the National Assembly. Although the government has announced its intention to resubmit an amended proposal, the rejection underlined a lack of political consensus behind the reform process, the EC said.
The slow progress in tackling high-level corruption and organised crime cases continues to erode public confidence in the ability of the Bulgarian authorities to deliver justice, the EC CVM report said, adding that the same is true for the uncertain reaction and follow-up to controversies such as the Sofia City Court case in 2014. The fact that many of the recommendations in the 2015 CVM report still require action underlines a lack of determination in the efforts of the Bulgarian institutions in key areas of judicial governance.
The Commission believes that the monitoring process of the CVM, the opportunities provided by EU funds and the constructive engagement of the Commission and many Member States continue to provide valuable support to Bulgaria’s reform efforts.
“The Commission urges Bulgaria to accelerate progress on implementing our recommendations on the reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption and organised crime,” the EC said.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)