Bulgaria is targeting how it distributes state advertising
The challenge remains with the accountability and criminal responsibility of the Prosecutor General in Bulgaria. Concerns about the composition and functioning of the Supreme Judicial Council are also present.
These are some of the findings of the European Commission in this year’s report on the rule of law in Bulgaria. Significant progress has been reported in administrative justice. The adoption of the new anti-corruption strategy for the period 2021-2027 with a new set of priorities was also noted.
The Second Rule of Law Report in the EU is one of the main initiatives of the Von der Leyen Commission and part of the comprehensive European Rule of Law Mechanism.
The report consists of two parts – on the state of the rule of law throughout the EU and separate chapters for each of the 27 member states. Four aspects are examined in detail – justice systems, anti-corruption laws, pluralism and media freedom in each Member State, and institutional issues.
“In response to the report on the rule of law for 2020, the Bulgarian authorities have adopted a special action plan covering issues in all four pillars,” the newly published EC document said.
The report has a preventive character, emphasize representatives of the EC. “With regard to Bulgaria and Romania, we have the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (SME). “One day, when this mechanism ceases to be in force, monitoring will remain in the form of the annual rule of law report,” said EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders. SMEs have been applied to Bulgaria since 2007, and although the EC recommended its abolition in 2019, other EU countries still refuse to suspend it.
Only in a footnote to the sentence for missing convictions for corrupt people in the upper echelons of power are the sanctions imposed by the United States on Delyan Peevski, Vasil Bozhkov and Ilko Zhelyazkov under the Magnitsky Act mentioned.
“Despite increased investigations and resources, final convictions for certain cases of corruption remain low. “Solid results are yet to be achieved in the form of final convictions in high-level corruption cases,” the report said on page 15. It is to the last sentence that the US sanctions are outlined.
Lack of judicial control
over the decisions of
prosecutors not to investigate,
raises concerns, the report notes. The issue of the lack of control of the Prosecutor General was also highlighted in the first report.
The EC also noted that “members of the Inspectorate of the Supreme Judicial Council continue their work, although their term ended in April 2020 (…) Despite legislative efforts, the digitalisation of justice is still lagging behind in practice.”
A study is cited, according to which the level of perception of judicial independence in Bulgaria remains low. Only 31% of the general public consider it “good or very good”.
As for the media, the lack of transparency of ownership in Bulgaria remains a cause for concern.
The EU-wide report specifically mentions Bulgaria and the fact that there are no measures for a fair and transparent distribution of state advertising. There are similar criticisms against other members. The political influence on the media in Bulgaria, the EC writes, continues to cause concern as
there are no rules to interfere
of politicians to own media
It seems that the working environment and safety of journalists in Bulgaria have not improved. Six new signals of attacks and harassment of journalists in Bulgaria have been registered in the special platform of the Council of Europe since the last report. Among them is the case of a journalist who was beaten by police and detained for 24 hours, which the prosecutor’s office refused to investigate.
Concerns remain about the practice in Bulgaria of introducing important legal changes through amendments to other unrelated legal acts that circumvent the requirements of public consultation and impact assessment.
As expected, the EU report most clearly points the finger at the two “most disobedient” members – Poland and Hungary. The EC is under strong pressure from members of the European Parliament to step up its approach to breaches of the rule of law, including the potential suspension of EU payments to members that persistently violate the Union’s values. Against this background, Warsaw and Budapest are still awaiting EU approval for their recovery plans.
The purpose of the rule of law mechanism in the EU is preventive. It differs from the other elements of Brussels’ rule of law toolkit – infringement proceedings and the procedure for protecting the Union’s fundamental values under Article 7 of the EU Treaty. This mechanism is also different from the procedure for linking the budget to the rule of law in individual countries.
Even after its first edition at the end of September 2020, the report was criticized by experts who said that there were no consequences for the perpetrators.
Ivan Geshev: The report is realistic
Lack of final convictions in high-profile cases is a challenge for the prosecution, support legal settlement of lobbying
The EC report is realistic, and the positive assessment of the existence of intensified investigative activity in Bulgaria is satisfactory. This comment was spread by the prosecutor’s office. The position of the state prosecution points to the contribution of the Specialized and the Appellate Specialized Prosecutor’s Offices to the increase of cases of corruption at the highest levels of government and organized crime. The assessment of the financial and staffing of the specialized justice is also accepted as positive.
“For the second year in a row, the EC does not submit a report on the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism. This is indicative of the irrevocability of the progress made by Bulgaria in the field of judicial reform and the fight against organized crime and corruption, “said the leadership of the prosecutor’s office. The challenge, however, is the assessment that there are no final convictions in high-profile cases. The prosecutor’s office reminds that many times they have asked for legislative changes that would limit the severe formalism in the criminal process.
“We fully share the EC’s recommendation for the introduction of an explicit regulation of lobbying activities and we expect that these issues will be in the focus of attention of the representatives of the legislature and the executive,” the prosecutor’s office said in its position.
The leadership of the State Prosecution thanked all prosecutors, investigators and court employees for their work on establishing Bulgaria as a state governed by the rule of law.
Without government it will get worse in 2022.
Without a stable government in Bulgaria, the next EU report will be even more critical, warned BSP MEP Elena Yoncheva.
“Bulgaria should finally take measures on the EC conclusions on the rule of law. For another year, the EC will not report progress in the state of the justice system, the fight against corruption and media pluralism. The GERB government not only did not make efforts to improve the environment, but also demonstratively disregarded the EU’s concern for the processes in Bulgaria, “Yoncheva told BNR.