Corruption and a lack of media freedom in Bulgaria are “serious challenges to the US-Bulgaria bilateral relationship,” according to a joint statement by US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (Democrat) and Jim Rich, one of the committee’s senior Republicans.
“The persistent corruption, declining media freedom, politicisation of the judiciary, and other threats to the rule of law pose serious challenges to the US-Bulgaria bilateral relationship,” read the joint statement.
The senators also highlighted that Bulgaria fairs worst among EU countries in Transparency International’s corruption index, as well as under the media freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders.
“The Bulgarian government and judiciary must work to uphold the rule of law for all, not just some, and the media must have the freedom to report the truth without facing harassment, violence, or punishment,” the senators said.
They commented that for eight months the citizens of Bulgaria have called for protests demanding an end to corruption, the rule of law and respect for democratic values. The US embassy in Sofia also backed the protests last summer.
The ruling GERB party suspects that the position of the two senators is the result of lobbying. Prime Minister and GERB leader Boyko Borissov did not comment, nor did he oppose his party’s position.
Georg Georgiev (GERB) tried to align the position of the senators with the visit of Republicans for Bulgaria party leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov to the US.
Tsvetanov was Borissov’s right-hand man in GERB but was forced to leave the party after a scandal over the purchase of a luxury apartment two years ago. Tsvetanov returned from a visit to Washington a few days before the two senators published their position.
“The real contacts between Bulgaria and the United States are not contained in a written position,” Georgiev explained. Former Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov, who is now a GERB member, explained that this is not an official position of the Senate. “In the near future, members of the US Congress should visit Bulgaria to see how it is developing,” Mitov said.
(Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)