Jourová: Bulgarian government should take the protests very seriously

Vera Jourova speaks to the press on 30 September 2020. [Europe by Satellite]

The European Commission Vice president for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, voiced clear support for the ongoing anti-corruption protests in Bulgaria on Wednesday (30 September), saying that the government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov should take them “very seriously”.

Jourová spoke upon publication of the EU’s first annual Rule of Law reports on the 27 member states, a major advance in the Commission’s efforts to create preventive mechanisms to safeguard EU values in rogue member countries.

Thousands of Bulgarians have been on the streets for the past 84 days, calling on Borissov and prosecutor general Ivan Geshev to resign over rampant high-level corruption that has weakened state institutions and benefited powerful tycoons.

Geshev is widely considered as biased and unfit for the job, while Borissov refuses to resign and belittles the protests.

Bulgarians trust EU institutions more than their own authorities and the general public is interested in the Commission report, but people find its language too diplomatic, too administrative, and too mild.

EURACTIV asked Jourová to go beyond the bureaucratic language and address the concerns of Bulgarians, who have been urging the EU to “stop funding the mafia”.

Stop funding our mafia, Bulgarians tell EU Commission

‘Stop funding our mafia’, read banners of a protest in front of the European Commission representation in Sofia on Monday (31 August). It was the 54th day of street protests in which Bulgarians are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and the country’s chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev.

Double monitoring

Somewhat surprisingly, Jourová said the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), put in place to improve the malfunctioning law-enforcement system in Bulgaria and Romania, would continue.

Until now the Bulgarian authorities have said that CVM would become history the moment a common mechanism, monitoring all member states, was put in place.

CVM was introduced as a temporary mechanism when the two countries joined the EU, but neither Bulgaria nor Romania have made sufficient progress for it to be lifted. Now both Bulgaria and Romania find themselves under “double monitoring”.

Said Jourová:

“There is still the CVM mechanism ongoing. As you know, there were plans to lift it, but there is still unfinished business, for the Bulgarian authorities, especially for the government, the reforms have to be finalised”.

She said that the Bulgarian public opinion has always been in favour of the CVM, but “from every survey, there was always a very clear message from the Bulgarian people that the trust in the judiciary is very low”.

“Now we are continuing the CVM, we are reflecting the objective picture on where we are in Bulgaria, be it in anti-corruption, on the media sphere or judiciary as such”.

Jourová warned that the Bulgarian Parliament and government should deal with the findings of the report “very seriously”, because “when people are expressing such dissatisfaction and such mistrust, and a very clear feeling that it is not possible to receive justice from the state, then this is a serious thing to be considered by the national authorities.”

The report on Bulgaria says that its judiciary needs to achieve final sentences in the fight against corruption.  It explicitly points out that the legal changes that would eliminate the long-standing fears about an effective accountability regime of the Prosecutor General have not been completed yet.

It also highlights that the functioning of the Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council and the Inspectorate has raised concerns that remain to this day.

The lack of transparency in media ownership in Bulgaria is also cited as a cause for concern. The Commission notes that there are reports indicating close links between some media and politicians who are not “officially” media owners.

It adds that a large number of Bulgarian journalists characterise political interference in the media as “frequent” and “widespread”.

The report also criticises the draft regulation on the transparency of foreign funding of non-governmental organisations, which has reportedly provoked “criticism of its possible negative impact on civil society.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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