The EU Council of Ministers poured some cold water on all attempts of Bulgarian politicians at gaining the removal of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), through which the European Commission monitors the progress in creating an independent judiciary and the fight against corruption and organised crime. The conclusions adopted by ministers on Wednesday (8 March) state twice that the monitoring will remain not only until benchmarks are met, but until it is proved that the reform process is irreversible. Meanwhile, the European Commission objected to attempts at casting a shadow on the credibility of the monitoring. The reason for the objection is a question sent to the Commission by Bulgarian MEP Emil Radev (EPP), in which he stated that the mechanism is discriminatory, its results are controversial, and that annual reports contain controversial and ambiguous conclusions.
The MEP insists on moving towards a EU-wide mechanism for democracy and the rule of law that applies to all member states. He also asks how many experts are committed to working on the CVM and how much does that cost to European taxpayers. He claims that there are an insufficient number of employees working on the CVM and they are with inadequate expertise. "Realistically, you can say that two or three employees in the European Commission decide the future of Bulgaria and the way the judicial system develops, who lack the necessary knowledge and experience. No wonder that often the reports are contradictory", is said in a press release from the office of Mr Radev.
The official reply of the Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans (The Netherlands, Socialists and Democrats) expresses strong disagreement with the allegations that the CVM is discriminatory and that its results are questionable. "The Commission underlines that the conclusions reached in its report are based on careful analysis and a fair and objective reading of the situation". There are two permanent advisers operating on the Mechanism - based in Sofia and Bucharest respectively - and three people in Brussels who work part time on the monitoring. Not all of them are lawyers, but they have legal expertise at their disposal from colleagues in the Legal Service, the European Anti-Fraud Office and the Directorates-General for Justice and Consumers, Migration and Home Affairs, Internal Market, Regional and Urban Policy and Employment, Social affairs and Inclusion. The EC often uses external expertise from Member States as well, from judges and prosecutors.
Responding to a question by euinside, a Commission spokesperson pointed out that the Commission rejects all attacks against individual employees or against the monitoring process. "The CVM Reports are adopted by the College of Commissioners. The Commission's methodology, the reports and their conclusions are approved by the Council each year", added the spokesperson. The very day when euinside got this reaction, ministers in the General Affairs Council approved this year's reports under the CVM for Bulgaria and Romania. The conclusions indicate that the mechanism can be terminated only when all the benchmarks are met in an irreversible manner.
"The Council reiterates its adherence to the values and principles of the EU. Effective implementation of reforms, focusing on sustainable results and on convincing and verifiable track records, remains essential for ensuring that citizens are enabled to benefit fully from all the opportunities offered by membership of the Union. Taking into account the last ten years of reforms in Bulgaria and Romania, the Council stresses the need of irreversible progress with the am of successfully implementing the benchmarks and achieving the final objectives. In these regards, the Council also reiterates the need for broad and unequivocal political support for such reforms and of effective implementation of the recommendations", states the document.
Regarding Bulgaria the conclusions state: "Although the Council welcomes the political commitment expressed by the government for reforms, for the full implementation of all those recommendations it is necessary to consolidate and accelerate the overall political will and the Council expects concrete measures and tangible and irreversible progress before the next Commission report". Bulgaria is expected to intensify the fight against corruption, especially at high levels of power, and this is to be manifested in concrete results. A new legal framework for fighting corruption is necessary to be adopted, including the swift establishment of an effective authority for battling corruption. A reform of the law on public administration is also needed, which would guarantee the strengthening of internal inspectorates.
"Bulgaria should address current weaknesses, and establish a mechanism for public reporting on progress (investigations, indictments, convictions, and enforcement) in high-level cases already in the public domain", continue the conclusions. The situation in Romania is the one responsible for the sharpening of the ministers' tone in the conclusions, for it is acknowledged that the so far inspiring progress of Romania is threatened by new attempts at hobbling the battle against corruption by the new government. So the document expressly states that "legal amendments resulting in the weakening or shrinking of the scope of corruption offences and which could jeopardise the fight against corruption should be avoided, as well as any measures which could challenge the independence or effectiveness of the DNA".
"Pending the results expected from each of the two Member States in this framework, and the Council's confirmation thereof, the Mechanism stays in place. Until then, the Council invites the Commission to continue its reporting and looks forward to its next reports on Bulgaria and Romania foreseen later this year. The Council welcomes the Commission’s intention to continue monitoring the situation in Bulgaria and Romania closely and to keep the Council regularly informed". These words wrap up the ministers' conclusions. This is a clear message that there will be no more political tolerating of any lack of progress or attempts at taking steps back.
Translated by Stanimir Stoev