The European Commission published on Tuesday its Report on Progress in Bulgaria under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM). In the Introduction to the Report, posted on the Commission's website, "the Commission points to a strong reform momentum which has been established in Bulgaria since the Commission's last annual report in July 2009". It also says: "The new strategy for judicial reform demonstrates the existence of a strong political will in Bulgaria to achieve a deep and lasting reform of the judiciary. The report also recommends that Bulgaria improve judicial practice in order to allow the judiciary to act more pro-actively and to show a stronger sense of responsibility."
State of the Reform Process in Bulgaria
The section on the State of the Reform Process in Bulgaria notes that "since July 2009, Bulgaria has adopted important reforms of its penal procedures. Legislation to strengthen asset forfeiture and to improve protection against conflict of interest is under discussion". The Commission also said that
"organised crime is actively tackledfor the first time since the inception of the CVM".
The Report also noted that "allegations of corruption within the judiciary in April are receiving a stronger disciplinary and criminal response than in the past. The number of indictments for organised crime has increased and severe sentences were pronounced, but not yet enforced, in a case involving large scale fraud of EU funds in April and June".
"At the same time, the Commission's analysis shows that important deficiencies remain in judicial practice both at the level of the prosecution and at the level of the court. The judicial process in Bulgaria lacks initiative and professional capacity. Complex investigations show a lack of direction and purpose, procedures are too formal and too long and often fail in court," the Report says.
It goes on to say: "The Commission's analysis also shows continuing shortcomings regarding the prevention of corruption and protection against conflict of interest. Effective implementation of the new national anti-corruption strategy adopted in November 2009 has not yet started. The implementation of the conflict of interest law is insufficiently effective. Shortcomings in the implementation of public procurement procedures are widespread."
Bulgaria has established a strong reform momentum, the Commission says in conclusion. Bulgaria adopted improvements in its penal procedures and can demonstrate a higher number of indictments for cases involving high-level corruption and organised crime. The Commission notes, however, that there is a
need for improvements of professional practice within the police, prosecution and courts for which external assistance will be needed. The judiciary must take the initiative more often and show a stronger sense of responsibility. Public funds must be better protected against fraud and conflict of interest. It is also said that Bulgaria's new strategy for judicial reform, approved by the Government on 23 June demonstrates political determination to achieve a profound reform of the judiciary. The Commission draws the conclusion that Bulgaria has established a new partnership with the Commission and improved
the quality of its reporting on progress under the CVM.
The Commission's recommendations regarding the reform of the judiciary are to implement the new judicial strategy in order to achieve a profound reform of the judiciary; improve judicial practice; and pursue work on a new Penal Code in the light of the new Concept of Penal Policy adopted by the Government on 23 June 2010.
The recommendations regarding the fight against organised crime are to strengthen the capacity of the joint teams on organised crime, extend their competence to all organised crime cases; pursue the reform of police in order to create a competent criminal police force able to apply best practices of other Member States and strengthen further asset forfeiture legislation following the principle of "nonconviction based civil confiscation" and recommendations by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, in particular to ensure the application of law while respecting fundamental rights and freedoms.
The recommendations regarding the fight against corruption are to improve judicial practice in high-level fraud and corruption cases in line with best practice in other Member States; strengthen the law on the prevention of conflicts of interest and encourage cooperation between procurement authorities to regroup tenders with a view to pool expertise and create economies of scale.
Prosecutor General Boris Velchev
Prosecutor General Boris Velchev said that the European Commission's report has been the most positive one so far. It contains some criticisms but also confirms that the CVM yields results, Velchev added.
The recommendations for more comprehensive operation of the prosecution authority regarding frauds related to EU funds are justified, according to Velchev. He also singled out the recommendation for an overall analysis of the weaknesses of the prosecution authority adding, however, that it will be fulfilled with the participation of foreign experts. According to Velchev, the establishment of specialized courts will institutionalise the teams, recommended by the Commission.
Supreme Judicial Council (SJC)
SJC said that it is already implementing some of the recommendations given by the Commission. Workload criteria will be drafted by the year's end and a more efficient mechanism of control over the fast publication of all judicial acts on the court's webpages will be launched. SJC voiced readiness to intensify dialogue both among the separate units of the judiciary and with the other institutions and to apply the best practices of the other Member States.
Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP)
The report's findings about a conflict of interest and irregularities regarding public procurement are alarming, Sergei Stanishev, Chairman of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and Floor Leader of Coalition for Bulgaria, told a news conference. BSP agrees with a large part of the recommendations regarding the
judiciary, Stanishev said. In his opinion the European Commission should pay attention to the issue of the judiciary's independence from the executive which is ever more often challenged in Bulgaria. There are not yet conclusions regarding the lobbyist laws that are being moved by GERB to the National Assembly but such will probably be contained in the next Commission reports, he noted.
The Socialists' leader voiced regret that CVM remain into effect regardless of the possibility for its removal this summer. Stanishev notes, however, that the report establishes the Government's political will to cope with the problems and this is a good sign. It is indicative of the Commission's approach to a new government, he stated.
Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF)
The Commission Report on justice and home affairs offers too many recommendations, which shows that the reform effort is not of a good quality since it is not producing results, MRF deputy leader Hristo Bisserov told BTA.
This is the first Commission Report which notes a strong and clear political will in Bulgaria for change and for solving problems, Ataka MP Dimiter Stoyanov said. "For me this is a very positive report," he said.
The Blue Coalition
The European Commission's positive assessment of the political will to tackle organized crime and corruption in Bulgaria is identical to that of the Blue Coalition, said Martin Dimitrov, leader of the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) and co-chairman of the Blue Coalition. He noted, however, that the necessary judicial reform should also be carried out because "there are
problems and they must be solved". The UDF has decided to table a bill in Parliament setting a two thirds majority of the MPs as a requirement for the election of Supreme Judicial Council members. Dimitrov said that this would make it impossible for any single party to elect them on its own.