Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Meglena Kuneva: There Will Be No Dramatic Change of Facts in Commission's CVM Report

Adelina Marini, December 18, 2014

The Bulgarian government recognises the need of a judicial reform and is actively working on this issue but if the Supreme Judicial Council and the parliament do not recognise their own responsibility the picture will not be complete. The judicial reform should stop being a battle field because when there are battles always focus is lost, the goal is lost, and our goal is to make a decisive progress. This is what Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kuneva told this website in an interview. It is high time to move on from strategies to real results. We will not impress anyone in Brussels with strategies, she said. Meglena Kuneva is the first member of a government since Bulgaria joined the EU and since it is under the special monitoring of the European Commission under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, who is responsible specifically for work on the benchmarks of this mechanism. She was a minister of European affairs and a chief negotiator with the EU when the mechanism was agreed as a precaution against the possibility Bulgaria not to fulfil its commitment to reform its judiciary system, to tackle corruption at high levels and to fight the organised crime.

"When we were signing the treaty in 2005, I believed that there will be no clauses at all. When it came to the obvious obstacle related to corruption and organised crime for both countries - Bulgaria and Romania - it was clear to me that with efforts this mechanism can be abolished in a year or two", she remembers in the cabinet of the Bulgarian permanent representative in the EU which has a view to the lake across the street. A lot of time has been wasted and there is nothing more precious than time. Missed opportunities hurt the most. More than the mistakes and here we have a series of missed opportunities, Meglena Kuneva continued emphasising that it is not acceptable the judiciary system to expect that the executive will do the work and vice versa or the legislative to expect that it will stay aside and just watch the judiciary. "We are all in the same boat. In such a situation, to try to explain that there is a bigger hole on the side of the judiciary system does not help. The boat is one and if it is filling with water, everything is sinking".

But is there will?

She is not certain but relies on the civil society. Now there is intolerance which became painfully clear during the protests last year. "There is no greater force and greater partner than the public opinion. If the public opinion is on the side of the reformers, if the public opinion continues to ask 'Who?', 'How?', 'When?', I think we will succeed". But still, she is concerned. Can a shaking report as that for Romania help, where a major focus was put on the independence and role of media as drivers for reforms and as a corrective of power? Meglena Kuneva said that on Monday, during the meetings of a big Bulgarian delegation in Berlin led by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and including all the three deputy prime ministers, in the Bundestag again was raised the issue of freedom of media. "This, indeed, is a very important starting point to hear the truth, to hear the whole truth and to be sure that no one will forget the important questions. This is the important role for media. That is why there is no way democracy to be sustainable if we have no sustainably democratic media. That is for sure".

The mechanism and geopolitics

Last week, the premier met in Brussels with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. During the meeting, Mr Juncker committed the mechanism to be abolished by the end of his term. Ms Kuneva had a meeting on the next day with Juncker's right hand - Frans Timmermans, who is responsible precisely for this mechanism. It was clear from the talks that the Commission wants Bulgaria and Romania to be successful examples. The mechanism will not be ended without a result just because its expiry date has come. Romania presented in Brussels a solid list of people "who received what they deserve according to their judiciary system. Bulgaria does not have such a list", Meglena Kuneva said and quoted a paradox: 97% of the indictments in Bulgaria end with sentences which, according to her, is even a strikingly high share. The problem is, however, in the three percent which are the toughest cases "probably related to corruption in the high levels". "In these 3% is our problem and it is there that we have to prove that justice is for everyone and everything that breaks the laws".

Was there geopolitics in Juncker's decision to make such a strong commitment to abolish the mechanism and for membership in Schengen? Not one or two EU member states bind Bulgaria's and Romania's membership in Schengen with progress in the fight against corruption and organised crime. "I don't see anything bad in the geopolitical arguments. I believe that this is right. When a region suffers from a geopolitical burden because of the circumstances around it, when, as Bulgaria is behaving absolutely beyond reproach, it is worth to give the right political signal and here I will say something about Schengen. To me, there is no legal basis Schengen to be bound to the CVM". The reason is the lack of trust in the judiciary system, Ms Kuneva admits. According to her, though, the trust in other areas is underestimated which should be taken into account when Bulgaria's readiness for Schengen is evaluated.

She means the trust in the fiscal discipline, although she admits that this year Bulgaria will for the first time in a while infringe the budget deficit criterion of 3% of GDP, but she promised that the government will do its best next year to put the public finances back within the limits. Apart from that, there is trust in Bulgaria that the country is transposing quickly the European legislation - more than 98% of all the directives have been transposed. There are also not many infringement procedures. "This trust has to be named and recognised in terms of Bulgaria and when we talk about trust in terms of Schengen, let's say what we lack but let's also say that there is trust in other areas and let's make this work for our country". Meglena Kuneva is also convinced that Bulgaria has to use the confidence, in her words, in terms of the energy legislation, "where we firmly stand behind every letter of the European directives which costs us and costs us dearly".

But is that so since, precisely in the area of the energy legislation, the European Commission has launched an infringement procedure earlier this year because of an attempt by Bulgaria to pass a Russian amendment circumventing the third energy package? And how does it contribute to trust the fact that Prime Minister Borissov was telling publicly that he did not know what is written in the South Stream contracts although he was prime minster at the time when some of them were signed or a member of parliament when others were concluded?

There is no time to ensure a good report under the CVM in January and probably there will be no dramatic change of the facts in the report. "Personally, I am very disappointed with the fact that there is still no election of a chairman of the Supreme Court of Cassation and that the Supreme Judicial Council gave beyond the last moment its position on the judicial strategy reform. If that had happened a week earlier, we could have hoped discussions to begin in parliament. The strategy is to be adopted this Wednesday [it has been adopted], but we are in the last 10 days before the holidays and the parliament will not have enough time. I will do what is necessary, I will talk to the presidency of parliament, with every pro-European group so that we can ensure support for the strategy. This will be a very clear sign but every day of delay matters and will cost double and triple. There are such days in the history of a state, in the history of a nation when everyone matters. Now is such a time", the deputy premier said.

She hoped that the Commission will give the government a chance to prove its political will. There might not be a change of the facts but in the political assessment some trends might be reported like, for example, the adoption of the strategy for the judicial reform. The moods in Brussels, though, do not predispose to giving new chances to a country which systemically fails to stick to its most crucial commitment - to ensure the rule of law. That is why, may be it is true that the ball is in the court of the civil society the appeal to which by Meglena Kuneva sounded sincerely. And may be the civil society should this time address its pressure to demanding independent media because this is the first step toward ensuring an environment for reforms. In Bulgaria, obviously, the order is wrong but nevertheless, we are back at zero level. Now we have a deputy prime minister for the CVM. The next step should be recovery of the media environment to ensure a reformist attitude.

*The attached video file is in Bulgarian language