Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

The CVM Report of Brussels – a Stick without a Carrot

Ralitsa Kovacheva, July 24, 2012

This year the European Commission`s report under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) was supposed to be a very important one, even crucial, because it had to summarise what Bulgaria had achieved for the five years under Brussels's monitoring in the field of justice and home affairs. Both the executive and the judiciary even lost their temper in anticipation of the report - a sign that the stakes are high.

Well, the report came, pointed out the usual problems, made some serious warnings and concluded: the Commission helps those who help themselves. The reactions, as usual, ranged from "there is political will," "this is a very bad report" and "there is no use of this report." Unfortunately, the report on Bulgaria was overshadowed by that on Romania that rightly emphasised the danger Bucharest to become something other than a democracy. In fact, the same warning appears in the Bulgarian report too – it mentions several times the violation of the independence of the judiciary and the “failure to respect the separation of the powers”.

This criticism, however, although having provoked some journalistic questions to Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Deputy Prime Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, hung in the media domain somewhere between the terrorist attack in Burgas and the vote of no confidence demanded by the opposition in the face of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. By the way, the latter is a pretty impudent move, given that the report covers the last two years (2007 and 2008) of the triple-coalition government including these two parties, when the relations between Bulgaria and the EU were rather in a state of cold war, and millions of euros from the EU budget designated for Bulgaria, were frozen. This behaviour clearly demonstrates that the CVM is used not to help reforms in Bulgaria but for political PR, even if it is touchingly clumsy.

In the same vein, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov tried to downplay the topic by explaining that the only reason for this criticism was the conflict of Interior Minister Tsvetanov with Judge Miroslava Todorova: "Regarding the separation of powers, I think it is clear that there can be no question of violating the separation of powers because of a dispute between a judge and the interior minister." And the only reason for the prime minister's dissatisfaction with this dispute is "because it led to her [Judge Todorova's] name being cited in the report." The prime minister also pointed an accusing finger at the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) because "on Friday they did a provocation to me which, if they hadn`t done it now, whole paragraphs of this report would have not existed, whole paragraphs, relating to the dismissal of Judge Todorova!"

Likewise, it became clear that, according to the prime minister, the criticism of the Commission for the disrespect of the independence of the judiciary is not just unfounded, but unfair: "You know, in other countries what things had been done for the separation of powers and were violated, and for us to bear similar comment, only because of a dispute, I don't think it's fair." Probably, by saying ‘other countries’, he was referring to Hungary and Romania that were also criticised for violating basic democratic principles. Although the report provides plenty of reasons for that criticism, beyond the specific case of the dispute between Tsvetanov and Todorova, obviously the prime minister still believes this is the only reason Bulgaria to fall into the company of Hungary and Romania.

Already in the morning, ahead of the publication of the report, at the regular meeting of the government Boyko Borissov said: "The negativism toward the Supreme Judicial Council is entirely directed to the previous government because the previous parliament has elected this Supreme Judicial Council, which has caused all these troubles." Obviously, according to the prime minister, the question is not whether there is intervention in the independence of the judiciary but who intervenes. As it seems, the general possibility for political influence over the judiciary in an environment of lacking transparency and objectivity is not a problem for the Bulgarian premier. The problem is who has access to this possibility.

Has the ordinary citizen of Bulgaria understood at all what the European Commission says? Has he or she realised what it means that in Bulgaria the separation of powers has not always been respected? Is he or she aware at all why is this important and why should he personally feel concerned? I do not have representative data on the issue. I can only judge by private conversations, discussions on the topic in social networks and media publications. My conclusion is that most Bulgarian media have chosen not to engage their viewers with this apparently too boring issue, particularly in the light of the terrorist attack in Burgas.

One day after the report was published, a friend called me, asking: what exactly said this report? I tried to explain briefly, starting precisely with the criticism for the failure to respect separation of powers. I tried to explain to her that in fact it means that power is concentrated into one centre, which at one point can prove to be almighty and uncontrolled. "As it was under socialism?", she asked. "Yes, as it was under socialism," I replied. Well, she said, Boyko Borissov is imitating Todor Zhivkov* anyway.

I started pondering that, in fact, in the last year we were mainly having fun rather than being worried by this deliberately sought similarity between the former and the current First Man of the country. I was thinking that it could not be expected by the society to react sharply to the danger of concentrating power in one centre, provided that in Bulgaria rules the maxim "all are scoundrels." Why do people have to worry that the executive has completely deprived the legislature of individuality and controls the judiciary behind the scenes, provided that public confidence in Parliament and the judiciary is too low? According to an opinion poll conducted by the Open Society Institute Sofia in June 2012, only 14% of Bulgarians trust the court, and even less the parliament. There is an overall high degree of distrust in institutions and the result is that apparently people just do not care whether the three powers are separated, given that they do not trust any of them.

In these results we can also find explanation of the reactions saying "this report is useless." People obviously expect 'Brussels' to roll up its trousers, wade into the Bulgarian swamp and start sorting out the local muddle. And they do not understand why this is not happening. And media incite them: see, Brussels does not care about us, it writes its reports while leaving us to cope alone.

The paradoxical fact is that the Bulgarian society seems to expect the principles of democracy and rule of law to be imposed on us from the outside. There was a totally opposite reaction, for example, when a rescue plan was imposed on Greece by its creditors - first the Greeks and then a full chorus of supporters roared that it was not democratic because it was not approved by the people. However, Bulgarians apparently expect that in the same "undemocratic" way – through decisions and actions from the outside - "Brussels" can solve our own democratic problems.

A friend told me some time ago: Brussels is guilty of corruption in our country because it gives money to Bulgaria from the EU budget, which a minister can distribute to whomever he wants. I asked him whether he believed that because of Bulgaria the rules for all countries had to be changed, because they could not be changed only for a particular country. And whose fault is this situation, I asked – of Brussels for giving the money or of the citizens for having chosen this government while uncomplainingly enduring it to behave outrageously, waiting for the next elections?

Who is responsible for this situation? Do Bulgarians expect a change and who they believe is supposed to make it? This is the big question that Bulgaria needs to answer by the end of 2013. Because the Commission`s summary of the five years under monitoring in the field of justice and home affairs says clearly that, although hesitant, the progress to date is entirely due to external pressures. The Union has enough problems and the last thing it needs is to worry about potential U-turn in Eastern Europe. However, the signs are there, but after Greece there is a zero-tolerance to any violations of the rules. First Hungary, than Romania knew that from bitter experience.

Bulgaria has a year and a half to answer the question who needs working rule of law and respect for democratic norms - the Bulgarians or Brussels. It is not the government that must answer this question - it has already answered and the assessment is C minus. The citizens need to answer, moreover unequivocally and without expecting reward for the good work. Or, as Brussels likes to say - this time there will be only a stick and no carrot.

*The former Bulgaria`s communist leader