Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Bacillus Bulgaricus or the deficit of rule of law

Ralitsa Kovacheva, Adelina Marini, July 18, 2011

Every year in July, for five years now, the virus called CVM spreads throughout Bulgaria. Usually at the beginning of July, both the authorities and the media remember that it's time the annual report of the European Commission, under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), to be published.

Although, as euinside wrote many times, the meaning of the Mechanism is to assist Bulgaria in achieving significant and lasting reforms in the area of justice and home affairs, the subject enjoys no media and public interest in the rest of the year. But when July comes, there is hysteria. Media start frantically asking when the report will come out. The second most popular question is whether it would be good or bad. The epidemic infects the various authorities too as “drafts” of the report start emerging in Bulgaria, because it is always sent in advance to coordinate the facts.

Here is how the Ministry of Justice explained the procedure responding to a question of euinside: “Before each report is published, the Commission submits to the Bulgarian party a draft, allowing - in order to avoid some errors - Bulgaria to answer. This usually happens in a very short period - no more than one day - so, we have established the following practice. The Interagency Coordination Council is being convened, it gets acquainted with the draft and prepares the Bulgarian response at the same meeting”.

As it is known, the report is expected to be presented on July 20. A week earlier, however, Bulgarian media have already published comments on the draft sent to Bulgaria, based on “sources of the judiciary” and “sources familiar with the draft”. Prime Minister Boyko Borissov even announced on Bulgarian National Television (BNT) that he would discuss the draft on the phone with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

euinside asked the spokesman of the European Commission, Mark Gray, whether this year the draft had been sent earlier than usual, and whether, if so, there was some particular reason for that. Because, inevitably, there would be attempts from the Bulgarian side to lobby in order to mitigate some not very pleasant conclusions of the Commission. Moreover, unlike the interim report in February, which is a technical one, the July report is political and its messages are crucial, especially at a time when the Bulgarian membership in the Schengen area has been formally bound by the Member States to the results of the report.

According to Mr Gray, both the procedure and the timing are the same as in the past. “The draft reports are sent to the Bulgarian authorities to verify the technical details and figures,” he explained, noting that “the political assessment and main contents remain the sole responsibility of the Commission.”

Looking at the comments cited in Bulgarian media, it is noteworthy that although every medium refers to its own sources, the information is the same, so obviously the source is the same. Another interesting thing is that the emphasis is on the observations of the Bulgarian party. Since the text itself is not published, there is no way to asses how justified the claims of “the sources” are. Ultimately, the perception remains that the issue of the CVM the report is once again (mis)used in order to push forward specific theses, mostly along the line executive-judiciary opposition.

The sources quoted by some media say that “the emphasis [in the report] is not on the judiciary, but on the fact that with no evidence you cannot have convictions.” Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, however, said on BNT: “We will be criticised again for the judiciary, for the lack of convictions.” Bulgarian authorities often read the report just like the Devil reads the Gospel, but this time we have an innovation - an interpretative reading even before the appearance of the text.

This proves once again the absolute misunderstanding of the CVM (and even the open resistance to it) and explains why in the last five years Bulgaria has not reported any significant results in the reform of the judiciary or in the fight against corruption and organised crime. Now the context is even more complicated because of the Schengen topic, which is also politically used by the Government and is being played out more like a pre-election trump card, rather than imposed as an important public priority.

This report is really very important - not only because of Schengen, but because of the general feeling of a faded „reform momentum” and the deficit of rule of law. That's why euinside will analyse and comment the report in detail, as we did before, but only after seeing the final text. Because we believe that any attempt to predict and even more - to interpret the messages of the report in advance, only leads to being fully undermined. If someone benefits from this, this is not the citizens, for sure.

It is interesting, though, that in neighbouring Romania, which along with Bulgaria is under the same mechanism, the topic is not being discussed at all. euinside talked to Romanian colleagues who answered in surprise - but it will be published, then we will know what is written in it. They added that ultimately it has been for long known that Brussels never allows the report to leak in the media in advance, so nobody even makes an attempt to learn what is written in it. "We will comment on it once it is published,” a Romanian journalist told us, adding that right now there were much more important issues in Romania.

The most important and widely discussed topic, which was even quoted by Brussels based media as EurActiv, is the extremely low absorption of EU funds. According to EurActiv, of a total of 20 billion euros allocated to Romania for the 2007-2013 period, the country has managed to absorb only 3.4%. According to Romanian journalists, that is a more important topic than what will be written in the annual CVM report of the Commission.