Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Corruption is no longer denied, is the main assessment of the European Commission about Bulgaria

Adelina Marini, July 23, 2009

The stick of the European Commission, however strange this may sound, did the job with Bulgaria for the very first time in many many years and now we can talk about a specific and comprehensive report as well as about a change in tone of Brussels. But this should not be interpreted as the report being good or bad, only as a big victory of the experts of the Commission who have finally found the right approach toward Bulgaria. This approach is very simple because it is in a fact a very detailed questionnaire to which only detailed answers can be given. That is the reason why people have the feeling that the tone of the Commission is soft.

In the text of the document, relatively short (9 pages) this achievement is formulated like this: "The CVM report of July 2008, and the report on the administration of Community funds in Bulgaria resulted in a change in attitude and a more open and frank dialogue at all levels with the Bulgarian authorities. The widespread existence of organised crime and corruption is no longer denied and some efforts are being undertaken by the prosecution and the judiciary to combat these problems."

The already former minister for European affairs Mrs. Gergana Pasy said that the document speaks of a more general assessment about the change in dialogue: "This is caused by the decision of the government to assign the coordination with the Commission to the minister for European affairs and not as it was before - to the foreign minister. The denial of a problem blocks you in its solution. There has been such a confusion in translation, which lasted for years when everyone had been constantly lost in communication on problems for which Bulgaria agreed to solve by signing a protocol in 2006, namely - that in the field of judiciary and internal affairs there are some imperfections which will be overcome during membership", reminded Mrs. Pasy.

In fact, the change in the Commission's method of receiving information about what's been done by the Bulgarian authorities, really is very significant and thorough if we read the text. For example, all blunders of otherwise good ideas are mentioned in detail: "First convictions have been achieved through plea-bargaining and a shortened trial procedure ("expedited procedure"). However, this process often leads to sentencing below the legal minimum in cases where the defendant admits the facts." Actually, this conclusion of the Commission is not new. It was mentioned in the intermediate report in February and means that for almost 7 months nothing has been achieved so far.

Besides, the Commission has been impressed by something else: "These first successes have to be judged against the fact that killings linked with organised crime continue and known criminals are not apprehended. There is a need for clear evidence that the authorities and the political class are unequivocally committed to eradicating the root-causes of the problem... It should be avoided that their laudable efforts cause exposure to threats and intimidation."

The sad thing about the report is that we see again criticism for the same old problems like the slow trials and investigations. It is again reminded that the Penal code is outdated and needs to be changed as well as in the Penal Procedural Code. These recommendations Mrs. Pay commented by saying: "So far there was a lack of political will for a real change in the Penal Procedural Code and this has been noted in a consecutive report. How many times do we have to be reminded to change the laws that make procedures slow and sluggish?"

At the end of the document the Commission makes 21 very specific recommendations. Here are some of them:

- make the ad hoc structure of joint investigation teams on organised crime permanent;

- set up specialized structures for prosecuting and judging high level corruption and
organised crime cases with appropriate functional and political independence;

- ensure effective implementation of the recent conflict of interest law through the development of implementing guidelines and a central reporting system. But the report does not mention even a word that this law has been radically crippled after before the New Year it had been approved by Parliament in a form that the Commission wanted but after the Christmas vacation the MPs voted entirely new and very much disabled law;

- analyse and address contradictory practice by the SJC in disciplinary proceedings.

And these are not all recommendations. Their total number is 21 and Romania has 16. The good news is though that the Commission has decided not to impose the safeguard clause in the judiciary because this would have cast a thick shed over the efforts of the new government if it demonstrates will to tackle with the criticism. But instead the monitoring of Bulgaria will remain until the Commission decided that it is no longer necessary. Mrs. Gergana Pasy suggested that it is possible this mechanism to be removed next year. But it wasn't very clear what grounds she found for such a forecast. A little before the report was presented, which we the journalists watched together with Mrs. Pasy in the Ministry of foreign affairs live from Brussels, she explained that one of the things that was of a great concern for the Commission but was not included in the text of the document was the lack of political will for reforms.

And if in the beginning of Bulgaria's EU membership and much before that, all reports spoke of the opposite - that there was political will but results were lacking, now the experts have obviously finally realised that "the existence of political pressure", by the words of the Commission spokesman Johannes Leitenberger, actually means that because there is no political will there are no results.

In conclusion the news from Brussels yesterday were good because it became clear that if we can't they can force us and, secondly, that they will not give up no matter who has the power in Bulgaria. And this is good for everyone, as citizens, because, may be, there is a chance sometime in the future the system to be changed which is entirely in our benefit.