The European Commission’s first EU-wide report on the rule of law, published on September 30, raised a number of concerns in the case of Bulgaria, but covered no new ground when compared to the report under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) that the country has been subject to since joining the bloc in 2007.
Presenting the rule of law report, Justice commissioner Didier Reynders acknowledged that “the information in this mapping exercise is not new, it is all public knowledge.”
In Bulgaria’s case, the points raised in the rule of law report repeated those made by the Commission in its earlier CVM reports, the main difference being that the latter had specific benchmarks for Bulgaria to aim for and recommendations on how to achieve those targets.
The CVM, which was intended to bring Bulgaria up to the EU’s standards regarding the judiciary and the fight against corruption, remains in place and the rule of law report reiterated that “Bulgaria will need to continue working consistently on translating the commitments specified in [the CVM] report into concrete legislation and on continued implementation.”
In particular, the rule of law report included a lengthy section on the role of the Prosecutor-General towards lower-ranking prosecutors, noting that “legislative procedures to answer long-standing concerns about an effective accountability regime for the Prosecutor-General remain to be finalised.”
It also noted that Bulgaria was among the EU member states with a comprehensive national anti-corruption strategy, but pointed out that effective implementation and monitoring was key to ensure that progress was made.
Bulgaria also gets a mention in the context of “concerns about the effectiveness of the investigation, prosecution and adjudication of corruption cases.” Noting that reform of its legal and institutional anti-corruption frameworks has led to improved cooperation between the relevant authorities, the report also says that “important challenges remain before these institutions can build a solid reputation of impartiality, objectivity and independence.”
The report focuses on four areas with a strong bearing on the rule of law: national justice systems, anti-corruption frameworks, media pluralism and freedom, and other institutional issues related to the checks and balances essential to an effective system of democratic governance.
It is in the area of media that the report highlights several concerns, from the effectiveness of national media authorities to the lack of transparency of media ownership, as well as threats and attacks against journalists.
Additionally, the report notes as a concern the draft bill tabled in the summer concerning increased transparency of foreign funding for non-governmental organisations, which has been criticised for its possible negative impact on civil society.
The full rule of law report chapter on Bulgaria is available on the European Commission’s website here.
(European Commission headquarters, Berlaymont building. Photo: JLogan )
Please support independent journalism by clicking on the orange button below. For as little as three euro a month or the equivalent in other currencies, you can support The Sofia Globe via patreon.com and get access to exclusive subscriber-only content: