“The reform momentum” is now simply and clearly a “commitment” - this change in style shows the main message of the interim report of the European Commission on Bulgaria's progress under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM). Although the report is "technical", i.e. there are no political assessments, the attitude of the Commission on key issues is unequivocally clear: as a Member State of the EU Bulgaria has clear commitments and political will only is not sufficient for their implementation.
What happened to “the reform momentum”, mentioned in the summer report? “In order to maintain its momentum of reform, Bulgaria should continue to focus on the national judicial reform strategy and pursue a thorough reform of the judicial system and of the police.”
This sentence is a direct response to our government's attempts to read the annual report from July 2010 entirely in its favour and to refer the criticism only to the judiciary. The delicate hints of a police reform being made so far (last year the report said Bulgaria to “pursue reform of police) obviously have not been taken seriously enough, so it is necessary to be said more clearly - the judiciary reform must go hand in hand with “a thorough reform of the police”. Pretending that you haven't understood that is untenable, to say the least.
There is also another thing, again in the portfolio of the interior minister, which is a direct response to his comments after last year's report. Then euinside asked Mr Tsvetanov how the Interior Ministry would respond to criticism of the ability of police to gather qualitative evidence. In response, the Interior Minister explained that many seminars and trainings had been held to enhance the competence of police. Six months later, the report says:
“During the last six months, police received a number of training sessions on the recent amendments to the Penal Procedure Code and the specific responsibilities of police at pre-trial stage. However, the collection and administration of evidence by police requires further improvement.” A proof of this necessity is the finding that despite the continuing “active policy to tackle organised crime through police raids and arrests”, it is reported that “these activities have lead as yet to few indictments”.
This finding should sound like a deja vu to the Interior Minister. In a normal state it would be much more serious a reason for an end of his career, than the number of his apartments.
Another deja vu is the creation of a specialised criminal court. The report notes the adopted legislation, without commenting on this decision. But the following is clearly added: “However, efforts need to be made across the judiciary to introduce specialisation and an improvement of professional practices, in particular regarding economic and financial crime “. We need to recall, as euinside has repeatedly written last year, the “specialisation” continues to be misinterpreted by the Bulgarian government.
Here's how clear it was explained in the report of July 2010: “Promote specific training and the specialisation of police services, prosecutors and judges to enhance their expertise and effectiveness in pursuing complex cases in particular regarding economic and financial crime and organised crime”.
The ostensibly technical report [of February 2011] explicitly mentions the “public concerns” on two specific occasions. The first is regarding the use of special investigative means (SIM) [the wiretapping scandal]. “Following the publication of wiretapped recordings in the beginning of the year, some public concerns were raised regarding the application and control of the use of special investigative means.” After recalling comprehensively the rules for using the SIM under Bulgarian law, the Commission concludes: “It is important that Bulgaria ensures strict respect of the rule of law regarding the application of special investigative means.”
The second case, where the Commission refers to public concerns, is regarding the work of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC). In its Summary the report says that in the last 6 months SJC has developed “a better disciplinary track record”. But: “However, in an important decision to appoint the SJC failed to demonstrate the necessary commitment to ensure accountability and transparency”.
What is this important decision? The answer is a few lines below: “As to the nomination of the Chair of the Supreme Administrative Court in November, public concerns were raised regarding the accountability and transparency of senior judicial appointments.” SJC is expected to demonstrate “an unequivocal commitment…to guarantee the independence and quality of appointments.”
The fight against corruption is illustrated by a brief account of verdicts and acquittals, while there is an important clarification that the acquittals are issued in some emblematic cases. The verdicts of the former director of the National Revenue Agency, Maria Murghina, and former director of a football club CSKA and “Kremikovtsi” Alexander Tomov are mentioned, as well as the indictments of the former Minister of Labour and Social Policy (Emilia Maslarova) and the ex-Minister of Health (Bozhidar Nanev).
At the same time, the court had issued “a number of acquittals regarding some emblematic cases of high level corruption, conflict of interest, fraud and organised crime”. These are the cases against the former Defence Minister Nikolay Tsonev, former Deputy Interior Minister Raif Mustafa, former director of the State Fund for Agriculture Asen Drumev and “the chairman of a political party represented in Parliament” - Ahmed Dogan, emphasising that his acquittal has been confirmed by the Supreme Administrative Court. (On the day of the publication of the report - 02/18/2011 - Assen Drumev has also been finally acquitted).
On the occasion of the launching of the government's “large scale anti-corruption project (BORKOR)” the Commission notes that the creation of the new central unit will cost “considerable investment in financial and human resources”: in 2011, Bulgaria has allocated 4 million euro for this project as only the central unit will employ 40 permanent staff.
Still in terms of the fight against corruption, the EC clearly indicates that Bulgaria has to implement the recommendations of GRECO (Group of States against Corruption) “regarding the criminalisation of corruption and regarding the financing of political parties and election campaigns”. According to Antoaneta Tsoneva with the Institute for Public Environment Development, in the new Bulgarian Electoral Code the recommendations of GRECO are not met in a full and consistent manner.
Regarding the legal framework on asset forfeiture, the Commission continues to insist on its recommendations from last year. While noting that the draft of the Illegal Assets Forfeiture Act was coordinated with the Venice Commission (the Council of Europe's advisory body on constitutional matters), the Commission says: “It is important that the final version of the new law while respecting fundamental rights, allows for the possibility to include the principle of "non-conviction based confiscation" as well as for the follow-up of anonymous signals”.
Although the report is concise and laconic, it is eloquent on several key points:
The reform of the police is no less important than that of the judicial system and the government cannot continue to blame the court only. Significantly, most of the criticism this time is not aimed at the judiciary, except the general one - to improve the judicial practice.
The recent legislative changes have led as yet to a few concrete results.
Bulgaria continues to neglect the problem of corruption, especially the high level one.
The funding of political parties is an important element of the process of "cleaning" the state of shady interests.
Bulgaria needs to ensure that it respects its own laws regarding the application of special investigative means.
Despite my sincere curiosity how the Prime Minister and the Interior Minister will comment on these findings, there wasn’t a formal reaction to the report by the Government by the time of the publication of this article. The Prime Minister apparently preferred to meet the President of the European Tennis Association Jack Dupree (on Friday), instead of commenting the report publicly.
The only comment was made by the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Vessela Tcherneva. Aside from the usual gratitudes to the European Commission for the “objective and fair analysis of what has been done so far”, the statement says that Bulgaria accepts the recommendations of the Commission to continue the reform of the judiciary and police. According to Ms Tcherneva, there is a “qualitative accumulation of good assessments under the CVM” that gives reasons for the conviction of the Bulgarian government that “the EC report in the summer will ascertain the final irreversibility of the processes.”
euinside will continue to expect comments from Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and will cover other reactions to the document too. Our own reading of the report, however, shows very clearly that in the absence of a positive political assessment, the technical report is brutally clear. Bulgaria should stop demonstrating “a reform momentum” only and fulfill its commitments. Because what is at stake now is not just the abolishment of the CVM (which seems increasingly impossible), but the Schengen membership of the country.
Using of “Schengen” as the the last “safeguard clause” will continue until the CVM is seen by Bulgaria as a formality. The report is a clear sign that the assessment of the Bulgarian public opinion is important for the European Commission - the reference to “public concerns”. It is high time the Government too to start listen to them.