Members of the European Parliament voted on October 8 to approve a resolution harshly criticising Bulgaria on rule of law issues.
The outcome of the vote, among 691 MEPs, was 358 in favour of the resolution, 277 against, with 56 abstentions.
The resolution slams Bulgaria over unresolved systemic issues in the judiciary, the lack of mechanisms for accountability and control of the Prosecutor-General, cases of corruption at the highest levels of government, and a serious deterioration of media freedom. It also expressed regret at Bulgaria’s failure to ratify the Istanbul Convention.
Other concerns include constitutional reform, which must be in line with international standards, possible changes in electoral legislation near the forthcoming parliamentary elections, hasty adoption of legislation, investigations of high-level corruption with no tangible results, and the state of fundamental rights, for example with regard to hate speech based on gender and sexual orientation discrimination, the rights of Roma people and asylum seekers.
MEPs condemned defamation campaigns and violence against journalists. They expressed deep concern about the deteriorating freedom of the media, transparency and lack of diversity in media ownership, as well as allegations that European funds have been allocated solely to government-friendly media.
They emphasise the need for tighter control over the way EU funds are spent and for an immediate response to fears that taxpayers’ money is being used to enrich people close to the ruling party.
The European Parliament vote came on the 92nd consecutive day of protests demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s government and of Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev.
The result was immediately welcomed by one of the groups of protest organisers, the “Poison Trio”.
The group posted on Facebook that the vote meant that the protests in Bulgaria had received moral support, and the citizens of Bulgaria had received confirmation of their demands. “All attempts at lobbying by Borissov’s people, to conceal the truth about our country, have failed,” the group said.
Another of the protest leaders, Democratic Bulgaria co-leader and former justice minister Hristo Ivanov, described the vote as a victory for democracy throughout Europe, not just Bulgaria.
Ahead of the vote, there were attempts by the EU-wide European People’s Party (EPP), of which Borissov’s GERB party is a member, to substantially amend the resolution.
A total of 49 amendments, including one directed against government critic President Roumen Radev linking his advisers to top-level corruption, were defeated.
The left-wing Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament had, ahead of the vote, urged support for it. “For years, the EPP has turned a blind eye to the eroding democracy of Hungary. Don’t turn your back on Bulgaria too,” the group said.
An MEP for the Green group, Daniel Freund, said in a message on Twitter after the vote: “European Parliament does not look the other way, when tens of thousands are protesting against corruption in #Bulgaria! Majority voted in favour of a report on #ruleoflaw, democracy and fundamental rights. We stand with the protestors in the streets of Sofia”.
The EPP opposed the resolution, saying that it was a matter of regret that the rule of law was being used as a partisan tool instead of being used for the good of the Union.
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