Bulgaria’s hopes of exiting European Commission monitoring under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) next year were given a boost on November 13, when the EC’s latest report noted a “positive trend” in reaching the benchmarks set for the country.
“In line with today’s report the Commission is confident that if the current positive trend is continued then Bulgaria will be able to fulfil all the remaining recommendations and therefore expects the CVM process to be concluded before the end of this Commission’s mandate,” the EC said in a statement.
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.
Although it has no fixed deadline, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker had previously said that he hoped that the two countries would successfully exit the process by the time the current commission’s mandate ends in 2019.
On November 13, the EC re-iterated that the CVM would end when all of the six benchmarks applying to Bulgaria were satisfactorily met (the full EC progress report available here).
“The speed of the process will depend on how quickly Bulgaria and Romania will be able to fulfil these recommendations in an irreversible way, and on avoiding negative steps which call into question the progress made so far,” the Commission said.
The Commission said that Bulgaria had continued its efforts to implement the recommendations set out in the January 2017 report, concluding that several recommendations have already been implemented and a number of others were very close to implementation.
“On this basis, the Commission has concluded that three benchmarks out of six (benchmark 1 on judicial independence; benchmark 2 on legislative framework; and benchmark 6 on organised crime) can be considered provisionally closed,” the EC said.
But the Commission also cautioned that continued monitoring was required to confirm this assessment, given that in some cases developments were ongoing, and also noted the “significant deterioration in the Bulgarian media environment over recent years which risks restricting the access of the public to information and can have a negative impact on judicial independence, with targeted attacks on judges in some media.”
“More widely, the ability of the media, as well as of civil society, to hold those exercising power to account in a pluralistic environment free from pressure is an important foundation stone to pursue the reforms covered by the CVM, as well as for better governance more generally,” the EC said.
The Commission said that it would make a further assessment on the progress made before the end of its mandate, but gave no time frame for when its next CVM report could be published.