Brussels, 18 February 2011
Interim Report on Progress under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism in Bulgaria
Why does the Commission report on progress in judicial reform, the fight against corruption and the fight against organised crime in Bulgaria?
Upon accession of Bulgaria on 1 January 2007, certain weaknesses remained in the areas of judicial reform, the fight against corruption and organised crime that could prevent an effective application of EU-laws, policies and programmes and prevent Bulgarians from enjoying their full rights as EU citizens. Therefore, the Commission took the obligation within the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism1 to assist Bulgaria to remedy these shortcomings but also to regularly verify progress against six benchmarks set for this purpose. These benchmarks are inter-linked and should be seen together as part of a broad reform of the judicial system and the fight against corruption and organised crime for which a long term political commitment is needed.
How does the Commission report on progress in Bulgaria?
The Commission's reports under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) are published twice a year. The reports are based on contributions from the Bulgarian Government, the Commission services, Member States and NGOs.
The last report published on 20 July 2010 pointed to a strong reform momentum that had been established in Bulgaria following the adoption of a new strategy for judicial reform. The report took note of important amendments to the Penal Procedure Code and of strengthened efforts to fight organised crime and corruption. The report also suggested Bulgaria to improve judicial practice in order to allow the judiciary to act more pro-actively and to show a stronger sense of responsibility.
Ahead of the next annual assessment of progress which the Commission will deliver in summer this year, the present report contains a technical update on significant developments since July 2010. It focuses on Bulgaria's response to the Commission's recommendations included in the last report; it does not contain a full assessment on progress achieved.
What does today's report say?
Today's report takes note of Bulgaria's continued commitment to implement its judicial reform strategy through a detailed action plan. More specifically, the report refers to the following significant developments which have occurred during the last six months:
In the area of judicial reform, Bulgaria adopted important amendments to the Judicial Systems Act. These amendments provide the legal basis for strengthening the accountability and management powers of the Supreme Judicial Council and for improving the system of appointments, professional training, appraisal and promotions in the judiciary. During this period, the Supreme Judicial Council has developed a better disciplinary track record but did not demonstrate the necessary commitment to accountability and transparency in one important appointment decision.
Regarding the fight against corruption and organised crime, Bulgaria decided to create a specialised court and prosecution office for cases related to organised crime. Structural reform of customs continued and an ambitious anti-corruption project started. Bulgaria also adopted amendments to strengthen the law on Conflict of Interest. During the same period, courts pronounced an increased number of verdicts in high-level corruption cases but also registered a number of acquittals regarding some emblematic cases involving high-level corruption, conflict of interest, fraud and organised crime.
What are the next steps?
In order to maintain its momentum of reform, the report suggests that Bulgaria should continue to pursue a thorough reform of the judicial system and of the police.
In this context, Bulgaria should take steps to further improve judicial practice and the way the judiciary, police and other investigative bodies are structured, managed and cooperate.
Until the Commission's next assessment in summer 2011, the report also recommends Bulgaria to focus on the adoption of an effective law on asset forfeiture, the establishment of an authority to identify and sanction conflicts of interest and on the track record in corruption cases and organised crime.
The Commission will continue to support Bulgaria in its reform efforts and provide its next in-depth assessment of progress by summer this year.
What are the six benchmarks set for Bulgaria?
The following benchmarks have been set for Bulgaria in the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism:
Adopt constitutional amendments removing any ambiguity regarding the independence and accountability of the judicial system.
Ensure a more transparent and efficient judicial process by adopting and implementing a new judicial system act and the new civil procedure code. Report on the impact of these new laws and of the penal and administrative procedure code, notably on the pre-trial phase.
Continue the reform of the judiciary in order to enhance professionalism, accountability and efficiency. Evaluate the impact of this reform and publish the results annually.
Conduct and report on professional, non-partisan investigations into allegations of high-level corruption. Report on internal inspections of public institutions and on the publication of assets of high-level officials.
Take further measures to prevent and fight corruption, in particular at the borders and within local government.
Implement a strategy to fight organised crime, focussing on serious crime, money laundering as well as on the systematic confiscation of assets of criminals. Report on new and ongoing investigations, indictments and convictions in these areas.
Where can the report be found?
The report is available on the following website:
Commission Decision 2006/929/EC of 13 December 2006 establishing a mechanism for cooperation and verification of progress in Bulgaria to address specific benchmarks in the areas of judicial reform and the fight against corruption and organized crime (OJ L 354, 14.12.2006, p. 56).