Bulgaria came under fire from its major business partners yesterday (25 January) over its failure to strengthen the rule of law, just before the publication of an EU monitoring report expected to be highly critical of the lack of reforms in the Union’s poorest member state.
The bilateral chambers of commerce of nine EU countries and the United States said that there was the “increasing impression, both locally and among foreign investors’ circles, that there is not enough rule of law in Bulgaria”.
In a joint statement, they said investors in Bulgaria are discouraged from pursuing their activities in Bulgaria, and are look towards other countries.
The investors call the deficiencies in the Bulgarian judiciary “systemic” and say that changes are impossible without political will.
Efforts by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s government to revamp the inefficient judiciary and root out corruption have become bogged down in political bickering in recent months.
In December, Justice Minister Hristo Ivanov quit, accusing lawmakers of undermining his reform efforts.
In the meantime, a corruption scandal erupted over the privatisation of a bankrupt state plant for chemical fertilisers in the city of Vratsa, north of the capital Sofia.
Foreign company ANJ Group, which has attempted to buy Himko A.D. in Vratsa, claims that the tender procedure was rigged, and that the assignee of the company and one man who presented himself as a counsellor to Borissov, asked for a €1 million bribe to arrange the deal.
The accusation was made two days after the tender attributed Himko to Delyan Peevski, a controversial businessman and media mogul who is in the centre of most scandals in Bulgaria in recent years.
Borissov has reportedly asked the country’s secret services to investigate the allegations that a person posing as his counsellor requesed the bribe.
The European Commission is expected to publish its monitoring report, under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), on Bulgaria and Romania tomorrow (27 January).
According to leaks quoted by the Bulgarian media, the report will say that Bulgaria’s efforts to tackle graft and organised crime have fallen behind those of neighbouring Romania, where former premier Victor Ponta is on trial for alleged corruption.
Both countries have been under special EU supervision since joining the EU in 2007 (see background).