Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

The reform of the judiciary in Bulgaria is still at the initiative phase

Adelina Marini, March 24, 2010

This is a conclusion which everyone can derive after reading the 8 pages of the 2010 interim report on the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) of the European Commission, published on Tuesday. The assessment of the Commission shows that the judiciary continued to produce only few results in cases involving high-level corruption and organised crime and a further street killing occurred in
January 2010.

There is a very interesting assumption made in the document, which is "allegations of serious corruption related to senior appointments in the judiciary involving members of the SJC (Supreme Judiciary Council) still need to be fully examined". The European Commission probably has in mind the scandal that erupted last year with Krasyo the Black one, for whom there were allegations that he lobbied for appointments in the judiciary. However, the document does not quote any names.

"During the second half of 2009, allegations of trade in influence and corruption in relation to senior judicial appointments involving members of the SJC were made
public. In response to the allegations, the SJC launched formal disciplinary
proceedings against a number of magistrates. Two members of the SJC resigned
from their posts under public pressure, and returned to the magistracy. Before that,
the SJC stated that both members had violated the magistrates' ethical code and
requested their resignation
", the interim report says.

There is one more thing that impresses a lot in the document - quite often the words "allegations" or "reportedly" are used. For example, the continuation of the above quote goes like this: "The lack of legal basis reportedly prevented the SJC from taking disciplinary measures against them. As a response, the Minister of Justice presented a proposal for an amendment to the Judicial Systems Act which intends to strengthen the disciplinary responsibility of members of the Supreme Judicial Council".

What is worrying when these words are frequently used is that, although the document is an interim report, it does not clarify on what "allegations" its assessments are based. Whether it is media publications or conclusions of European experts after their visit to Bulgaria.

The report notes though, that currently several cases of high level corruption are being investigated - a systematic problem, which exists in each report the Commission is doing for Bulgaria even before its accession to the European Union. Nevertheless, the Commission's spokesperson Mark Gray again emphasized that it was important all inquiries to end with a sentence.

The expectations of the experts of the Commission are that the reforms, initiated in the National Tax Revenue Agency and the Customs agency will lead to improved accountancy and effectiveness.

As every year, one of the most interesting moments when presenting the boring assessments is "reading" them. The interim reports are by default technical and do not contain any political assessments. In other words, they set up the tone, the problems on which a country has worked upon and from which results are expected on the 6 indicators, formulated with the establishment of the CVM. Therefore, it is useless to expect such a document to give a political direction, to send messages of praise or criticism.

However, this did not prevent the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to boldly analyse the 8-page document by emphasizing in a special statement, published less than an hour after the publication of the reports: "The Report is firmly recognising the political will of the government, ensued by the clear mandate of the Bulgarian citizens, to fight crime and to reform the law enforcement bodies. The European Commission is reporting positively the meaning of the numerous operations, undertaken by the Ministry of the Internal and the Prosecutor's office in the last 6 months, and especially the indictments against two former ministers, two members of parliament and a former director of a state agency".

The reaction of the prime minister Boyko Borisov, however, was even bolder. "The report clearly says that there is political will the measures already undertaken to deliver results", were the remarks of the premier in Qatar, quoted by the Focus news agency. And regarding the European Commission, it must have a leading role in the reform of the judiciary because "Since they let us join with unreformed judiciary system, now they have to have the leading role in reforming it", the prime minister added.

The truth is that on government's efforts the document says: "In the last six months, Bulgaria has launched a number of important initiatives which show will for reform. These efforts are laudable. Although their merit can only be assessed in the light of their effective contribution to the fight against corruption and organised crime once they are implemented, Bulgaria's recent efforts demonstrate a growing recognition that substantial and far-reaching reforms are required". And Mark Gray added that the CVM would be necessary until the government would complete all the necessary reforms.

This could be interpreted not as a praise but as a warning of the type "We do not trust your good intentions for a long time now because, as the saying goes - the road to hell is also covered with good intentions".