Sofia relieved by EU monitoring report

Protestor's banner reads: "Sorry but we try to save the little that's left of Bulgaria." [Dnevnik]

The European Commission published yesterday (28 January) its annual reports on Bulgaria and Romania, the two countries being monitored in an effort to help improve their deficient law-enforcement systems. Bulgaria expected a harsh report, but the Commission spared it criticism.

Ahead of publication, local media speculated that the report would be devastating, as it is common knowledge that the country has made no progress in reforming its judiciary and fighting corruption.

Surprisingly, the Commission treaded lightly, taking into account the fact that Bulgaria changed governments three times over the last year, and that it would be of little use to criticise former administrations.

This indulgence relieved both the present centre-right government of Boyko Borissov, as well as the former Socialist-led government of Plamen Oresharski.

Justice Minister Christo Ivanov, a former activist with strong ties to the European Commission, said that one of the positive assessments of the report is that the effort of the present government “to call things by their real name” was recognised by its authors.

He stressed that the Commission had pledged its support for the latest strategy to reform the judiciary system.

Ivanov called the report “a credit of confidence given by our partners for a very short term and against a very high interest rate”.

He also said that the report clearly indicated where the efforts need to be made, in particular, reforming the Supreme Judicial Council, the 25-member highest body of the Bulgarian judiciary. This Council has been repeatedly criticised for appointing judges without the required qualifications, for looking the other way in cases of conflict of interest, and for tolerating corrupt practices, sheltering the elite from prosecution.

The minister also said that the message of the report was that Bulgaria needed to change its political culture.

Meglena Kuneva, a former Commissioner, and now one of the country’s deputy prime ministers, said that next year, the Commission would not be as generous.

Kuneva said organised crime was again identified as a big problem, especially the low rate of successful investigations, pressures on local authorities, the intimidation of witnesses, as well as the lack of confiscation of property following criminal activities.

In fact, Bulgaria has proved unable to protect witnesses, with some getting killed.

Speaking to journalists before the publication of the report, Bulgarian commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said that apart from the issuing of the report, foreign investment in Bulgaria had dropped dramatically in recent months.

Western ambassadors, notably the French ambassador to Sofia, have highlighted cases of companies from EU countries being bullied by the judiciary authorities.

Recent polls have shown that 96% of the Bulgarians would like EU monitoring to continue, hoping that this pressure from Brussels would change the entrenched patterns of behavior of the political, judiciary and economic elite.

When Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU on 1 January 2007, shortcomings remained regarding judicial reform and the fight against corruption. In the case of Bulgaria, problems also remained regarding the fight against organised crime.

A Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) was set up to assist both countries with judiciary matters after their EU accession. Seven years after their accession, the CVM is still ongoing and will continue under the next EU Commission. 

So far, the Commission reported under CVM every six months on progress with judicial reform, the fight against corruption and, concerning Bulgaria, the fight against organised crime.

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