Brussels, 27 June 2007
Bulgaria successfully joined the European Union on 1 January 2007. To address the limited number of areas where further work will be necessary, the European Union has adopted a package of accompanying measures. These measures concern areas such as food safety, payment of EU funds, and a special mechanism to help Bulgaria to continue the reforms of the judiciary and the fight against corruption.
The Commission has today adopted its first progress report on the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism and the measures taken by Bulgaria to reach the benchmarks set by the Commission in its decision of 13 December 2006.
A full background on the procedural aspects behind the progress reports, together with a more detailed overview of the benchmarks can be found in MEMO/07/260.
The key findings of the Commission are as follows
Bulgaria has made mixed progress in meeting the benchmarks set out in the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism. It is important to see these benchmarks as representing more than a checklist of individual actions that can be ticked off one by one. They are all interlinked. Progress on one has an impact on others. Each benchmark is a building block in the construction of an independent, impartial judicial and administrative system. Creating and sustaining such a system is a long term process. It involves fundamental changes of a systemic dimension that can take many years to firmly take root. The benchmarks cannot therefore be taken in isolation. They need to be seen together as part of a broad reform of the areas at stake– for which a long term political commitment is needed. Greater evidence of implementation on the ground is needed in order to demonstrate that change is irreversible.
The Bulgarian Government is committed to judicial reform and cleansing the system of corruption and organised crime. In all areas, the Bulgarian authorities demonstrate good will and determination. They have prepared the necessary draft laws, action plans and programmes. However, the real test can only be met through determined implementation of these actions on the ground every day. There is still a clear weakness in translating these intentions into results. Bulgaria has stepped up efforts at the highest levels in the fight against corruption and organised crime. While recognizing these efforts, much remains to be done. Progress in the short time since the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism was set up is still insufficient.
Deeply rooted problems, notably organised crime and corruption require the irreversible establishment and effective functioning of sustainable structures at investigative and enforcement level capable of sending strong dissuasive signals. In addition, the structural changes which are needed impact on the society at large and require a step change which goes much beyond the mere fulfilment of the benchmarks. This requires a strong long term commitment by Bulgaria and can only be successful if the strict separation of the executive, legislative and judicial power is respected.
Benchmark 1: Independence and accountability of the judicial system
Bulgaria adopted constitutional amendments which ensure the independence of the judiciary and provide for the creation of an independent judicial inspectorate to monitor the integrity of the judiciary and follow-up on complaints.
It is too early to assess the effectiveness of these amendments given that the inspectorate has not yet been set up.
Bulgaria has largely met this benchmark by adopting the Constitutional amendment. It will not be possible to assess the effectiveness of the amendment in removing ambiguity regarding the independence and accountability of the judicial system until the full adoption and implementation of the necessary implementing legislation providing for the establishment of the independent judicial inspectorate (see also benchmarks 2 and 3).
Benchmark 2: Reform of the judicial system.
The first chapters of the new judicial system act were adopted in mid June and hence it is too early to be able to report on its implementation. It would appear to address concerns about the independence and staffing of the Supreme Judicial Council and its inspectorate. Adoption of the civil procedure code is still pending. A monitoring system for the new penal procedure code and the new administrative procedure code has been set up to facilitate uniform application of law. However, there has been no systematic reporting on the findings of this monitoring mechanism.
Overall, Bulgaria has achieved some progress in improving the transparency of the judicial process but more time is needed to be able to assess whether the new laws will have their intended impacts.
Benchmark 3: Reform and transparency of the judiciary
The judicial inspectorate as key supervisory institution of the integrity of the judiciary still has to be established under the impending Judicial System Act (JSA). Therefore, only limited progress can be reported with respect to achieving better accountability of the judiciary. First steps have been taken by applying the code on ethical behaviour and enforcing disciplinary sanctions for indicted prosecutors. Progress has been made by Bulgaria in terms of the recruitment procedure and performance evaluation of magistrates. These efforts need to be maintained and amplified. The National Justice Institute launched a number of training sessions on the new procedural codes involving an important number of judges, court clerks and prosecutors. Computer-based random allocation of cases is to become common practice.
Overall, some progress has been achieved in enhancing accountability, professionalism and efficiency of the judiciary in Bulgaria.
Benchmark 4: Fight high-level corruption
Several committees attached to the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers and the Supreme Judiciary Council carry the responsibility of the fight against high-level corruption in the Bulgarian public institutions. An implementation programme to fight corruption has been adopted. However, the programme's implementation lacks clear lines of responsibilities and an efficient coordination mechanism. This makes it difficult to sustain action at all levels of the administration and the executive. It remains unclear whether measures to protect potential whistleblowers have been effectively implemented and therefore more legislation is needed. Some progress with investigation on pre-trial level has been achieved - also by the recently formation of independent inspectorates. A system to verify asset declarations of high public officials was set up in January 2007. But, there is little evidence of rigorous and systematic judicial follow-up on allegations of high-level corruption.
Overall, progress achieved in the judicial treatment of high-level corruption cases in Bulgaria is still insufficient.
Benchmark 5: Fight corruption within local government.
Bulgaria has successfully stepped up its efforts to curb corruption at some border stations with an increased number of preventive controls and sanctions. The establishment of electronic payment systems and a system of random shifts at some border stations have contributed to a decline of corruption opportunities and to increased revenue. This good practice should be extended to all border stations. Specific training and corruption awareness measures aimed at the local administration coupled with increased administrative transparency and simplification have started to produce results. However, no data on the prosecution of corruption cases at the level of local government was provided. Financial investigations by the National Audit Office have started, but pro-active investigations into inexplicable wealth are not yet common practice.
Overall, substantial progress has been achieved in preventing and fighting corruption at the border and within local government.
Benchmark 6: Fight organised crime
Bulgaria is implementing an updated action plan on organised crime which focuses on judicial enforcement as well as pre-trial sanctions and prevention measures. Judicial cooperation with other Member States in this area is extensive. Bulgaria is also involved in a considerable number of assistance projects covering different aspects of organised and serious crime. However, an evaluation of the impact of the strategy is inconclusive given the absence of a measurement methodology and reliable statistics. Data that would allow the evaluation of the judicial treatment of cases is patchy or inadequate. In addition, legal prosecution of alleged contract killings is still insufficient. Concerns remain also in relation to institutional capacity to pursue the forfeiture and confiscation of criminal assets.
Overall, progress in the fight against serious and organised crime is still insufficient.