European Commission refers Bulgaria to ECJ over railway safety

The European Commission said on November 8 that it has decided to refer Bulgaria to the EU Court of Justice for “failure to correctly transpose and implement EU legislation on railway safety”. As part of the November infringements package, the EC also advanced two other existing infringement proceedings and opened five new ones against Bulgaria.

On railway safety, Bulgaria has not fully implemented the 2004 EU directive that, among others, requires member states to establish fully-independent bodies that would investigate railway accidents. Bulgaria has failed in that regard as its legislation “does not guarantee that investigations of serious rail accidents and incidents are performed by an independent investigating body,” the EC said.

Despite being asked in a reasoned opinion in October 2017 to correct that oversight, Bulgaria had still failed to take the necessary legislative steps to comply, the Commission said.

The matter has had tangible repercussions in Bulgaria, where a trial relating to the Hitrino rail blast, which left seven people dead in December 2016, has been repeatedly delayed over the lack of a definitive report establishing fault for the disaster.

Bulgaria also received reasoned opinions from the European Commission, the second stage in the infringement procedure, urging the country to fully transpose the European rules on roadworthiness and proceeds of crimes.

In the first case, Bulgaria was asked to fully transpose European rules on the periodic technical inspection of motor vehicles and their trailers into national law, as required by a 2014 directive, which defines the items to be tested during the roadworthiness test, the test methods, and the defects and their assessment. Despite Bulgaria’s notification that it has done so, the Commission concluded that the transposition was incomplete.

In the other reasoned opinion, the EC said that Bulgaria and Romania failed to communicate the transposition of EU law on the “temporary prohibition (freezing) and confiscation of instrumentalities and proceeds of crime.” The deadline for implementing these rules was October 2015 and the two countries have two months to reply and should they fail to do, the Commission could refer them to the European Court of Justice.

Separately, the EC sent letters of formal notice, the first stage in infringement proceedings, on five other matters where Bulgaria fell short of implementing EU law.

Notably, the Commission “urged” Bulgaria to comply with the European Court of Justice ruling on air quality from April 2017, which found that Bulgaria had breached its obligations under the Air Quality Directive by failing to comply with the limit values for concentration of particulate matter (PM10) in the ambient air and to keep the period of exceedance as short as possible.

While acknowledging that some progress has been made, the Commission said that it was concerned by the slow pace of change and the lack of a co-ordinated approach between the environmental authorities and the other authorities concerned at national and local levels.

Bulgaria has adopted measures related to the road traffic, including controls on end-of-life vehicles waste and technical inspections, but other measures, such as new requirements for sulphur and ash in coal and briquettes used for domestic heating, were still at the planning stage, the Commission noted.

“If Bulgaria fails to act and the case is referred back to Court, financial sanctions could be imposed. Bulgaria has two months to reply,” the EC said.

In a separate new infringement proceeding on air quality, Bulgaria was asked to fix its national legislation to “correctly reflect” EU rules that required member states to take appropriate measures to keep periods of exceedance of permitted values as short as possible. “The Commission is concerned by the formulation in the legislation of Bulgaria, which falls short of this requirement,” the EC said.

On the issue of migration, the EC opened an infringement proceeding regarding Bulgaria’s incorrect implementation of EU asylum legislation, having found that “shortcomings in the Bulgarian asylum system and related support services” were in breach of the asylum procedures and reception conditions directives, as well as the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

“Concerns relate in particular to: the accommodation and legal representation of unaccompanied minors; the correct identification and support of vulnerable asylum seekers; provision of adequate legal assistance; and the detention of asylum seekers as well as safeguards within the detention procedure,” the EC said.

On taxation, the Commission asked Bulgaria to correctly implement EU rules which provide for automatic information exchange between member states on financial income. Specifically, Bulgarian law currently provides for a broader exception for certain reportable persons than that allowed in the EU legislation, and also allows certain types of entities, such as partnerships, to escape due diligence procedures and excludes certain annuity contracts from its scope.

Finally, the EC sent an additional letter of formal notice to Bulgaria for failing to correctly transpose EU rules on airport charges, the fees airlines pay to airports for the use of infrastructure and services.

(Photo: JLogan)



The Sofia Globe staff

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