A team of EU experts arrived in Bulgaria on June 27 for a one-week technical review of the country’s prosecutor’s office, the Justice Ministry said in a statement.
According to the ministry, the team’s goal is to “collect opinions about the structural and functional model of the state prosecution – its hierarchy, specialised structures, integrity, transparency and caseload”, but the statement gave no further details.
Reports in Bulgarian media said that the team included a total of six experts, featuring prosecutors from Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and UK (picked by the European Commission following consultations with the respective national governments) and two members of the EU’s Structural Reform Support Service.
Although the team’s exact technical task was not made public, specialist judiciary news website Legalworld.bg reported that the experts will have a series of meetings and will review six high-profile investigations, of which three were picked by the European Commission and the other three by the Prosecutor’s Office.
In its most recent Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) report in January, the EC recommended that Bulgaria carries out an independent analysis of the prosecutor’s office. The government in Sofia suggested that the review was carried out by outside experts, with the assistance of the European Commission.
(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 most recent reports noted Romania’s progress in those areas, while criticising Bulgaria for insufficient progress.)
Initially, the team was due to arrive in Sofia in late May, but the mission was postponed by four weeks, with the Justice Ministry giving no explanation for the delay.
Over the past year, Bulgaria has stepped up judiciary reform efforts, with a set of constitutional amendments adopted in late 2015, followed by changes to its Judiciary Act this year. Critics of the reform efforts, however, have claimed that the changes did not go far enough, especially as regards the prosecutor’s office, where the power of the prosecutor-general remains largely unchecked.
(Palace of Justice in Sofia. Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)