Bulgaria has moved a step closer to the end of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), put in place when it joined the EU, intended to bring it up to the bloc’s standards regarding the judiciary and the fight against corruption.
A report on progress under the CVM, adopted by the European Commission on October 22, said that the Commission considers that the progress made by Bulgaria under the CVM is sufficient to meet Bulgaria’s commitments made at the time of its accession to the EU.
However, it stopped short of a final decision on ending the CVM for Bulgaria, saying that the Commission will also take duly into account the observations of the Council of the EU, as well as of the European Parliament.
“Bulgaria will need to continue working consistently on translating the commitments reflected in this report into concrete legislation and on continued implementation,” the report said.
“Although challenges remain regarding the implementation of the necessary reforms and maintaining the accumulated speed, the progress made by Bulgaria is currently sufficient to consider discontinuing the operation of the CVM and using new monitoring mechanisms at national and at the level of the EU. We will carefully hear the opinions of (the European) Parliament and the Council before deciding,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told a briefing, according to a report by Bulgarian National Radio.
“I stated at the beginning of my term that I would like the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism to end with this Commission. Of course, achieving that ambition has always depended on meeting all the requirements in the area of judicial reform and the fight against corruption and organised crime,” Juncker said.
The October 22 report report looks at the progress made over the past year to meet the final 17 recommendations issued by the Commission in its January 2017 report.
“It positively notes that Bulgaria has worked consistently on the implementation of these recommendations,” the EC said.
The Commission said that Bulgaria will need to monitor the continued implementation of the reform with a newly-established post-monitoring council, and that will feed into the future dialogue with the Commission in the framework of the comprehensive rule of law mechanism.
“Both the internal post-monitoring and the EU-wide mechanism should support sustainability and irreversibility of reforms, even after an end of the CVM for Bulgaria.”
Since the last report in November 2018, the Commission has seen consolidation in Bulgaria of the legal and institutional framework put in place over previous years.
“Translating this into results over the long term will now require determination and follow-up, first of all at national level, notably by the post-monitoring council which will be co-chaired by a deputy Prime Minister in charge of judicial reform and the representative of the Supreme Judicial Council.”
The Commission said that the responsibility to ensure the respect of the rule of law and a proper functioning of the state is an internal constitutional responsibility of all national governments towards their people. “It is also their responsibility towards the European Union and their fellow member states.
In this respect, the issues addressed by the post-monitoring council will also feed into the dialogue with the Commission in the framework of the future EU rule of law mechanism.
In addition to the commitment to pursue reforms in relation to the fight against corruption, the Commission notes in particular the commitment of the Bulgarian government to put in place procedures concerning the accountability of the Prosecutor General, including safeguarding judicial independence in line with the Venice Commission recommendations.
The Commission also notes the commitment of the Bulgarian authorities to adopt legislation to repeal provisions in the Judicial System Act requiring automatic suspension of magistrates in case of a criminal investigation against them and reporting of membership in professional associations.