The European Commission’s January infringements package, published on January 24, showed five new proceedings being launched against Bulgaria, with three existing cases taken to the second stage of the process, while one outstanding case was closed.
Once again, the Commission took Bulgaria to task over its failure to meet obligations under EU rules for the conservation of natural habitats and protected species, included in the Natura 2000 network.
“Bulgaria has designated only 9 out of 230 Sites of Community importance as Special Areas of Conservation within the required time limit, and has generally and persistently failed to set site-specific detailed conservation objectives and measures for any of them,” the EC said, calling on the country to complete its Natura 2000 network in a letter of formal notice.
A second letter of formal notice, the first stage in the EU infringement proceedings, called on Bulgaria to review its rules on how traders can enforce claims against consumers, to make them compatible with EU law on unfair terms in consumer contracts.
“EU rules guarantee that such unfair terms do not bind consumers and they have effective remedies under reasonable conditions against them. Under the case law of the Court of Justice, this implies that national courts are obliged to assess the unfairness of contract terms ex officio, i.e. even if the consumer does not raise this point,” the Commission said.
“To date in Bulgaria, however, payment orders and orders for immediate enforcement are issued without any substantive checks by the courts. Consumers can only challenge them under very strict conditions. In particular, certain creditors, such as banks, can obtain orders for immediate enforcement quasi automatically, with very limited possibilities for the consumers to prevent or challenge the enforcement based on unfair contract terms.”
In the area of criminal justice, Bulgaria was told to take action to ensure that EU rules on deprivation of liberty were correctly implemented in national law. The EC said that the draft legislative process in Bulgaria was at an early stage and the country was yet to notify the European Council and the Commission of any transposition.
The other two letters of formal notice requested that Bulgaria speed up transposition of EU directives on energy efficiency and public procurement and concessions rules.
In three existing cases, Bulgaria received reasoned opinions, which progress the infringement process to its second stage. In two cases – regarding implementation of the Data Protection Law Enforcement Directive and EU’s 4th Anti-Money Laundering Directive – Bulgaria was one of several EU member states that failed to transpose the EU rules in full or on time.
The third case saw the Commission target Bulgaria regarding its Trademark and Geographical Indication Act, under which the country has maintained a national register of geographical indications for agricultural products and foodstuffs since 2008.
But national protection of geographical indications was not compatible with EU law, which was subject to EU regulation. “Bulgaria should have put an end to this national registration system from the date of the accession to the EU in 2007 and could only have protected existing national geographical indications for 12 months after the date of accession if an application at EU level had been done during this limited period,” the commission said.
Finally, the EC said that it closed the infringement proceeding against Bulgaria after it transposed the EU directive on antitrust damages actions into national law in the first half of 2018.