Brussels, 22 January 2014
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 undertook 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 interlinked 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) have been published on a regular basis since 2007. The reports are based on contributions from the Bulgarian Government, as well as from the Commission services, Member States and NGOs. The most recent report in July 2012 charted the legislative, institutional and policy developments relevant to judicial reform and the fight against corruption as well as a review of progress over the full five years since Bulgaria's accession to the EU in 2007. It showed important progress in the adaptation of the basic legislative and institutional framework, but also some important remaining gaps as well as a need for effective and consistent implementation of the reforms. There were still considerable challenges to be tackled. In this context it was decided to take a longer period before the next report (18 months) see how the reforms already implemented by Bulgaria were taking root and to give time to assess the degree of sustainability before the next assessment. The 2012 report, its methodology and conclusions were also endorsed in conclusions by the Council of Ministers.
What does today's report say?
Today's report concludes that since the Commission's last report in July 2012 Bulgaria has taken a few steps forward. There have been some improvements in appointment procedures, some useful managerial steps by the Prosecutor General and some progress by the Supreme Judicial Council on the workload issue.
However, overall progress has not yet been sufficient and remains fragile. Repeated controversies such as appointments having to be aborted due to integrity issues, the escape from justice of convicted leaders of organised crime and a succession of revelations about political influence on the judicial system have affected public confidence. There remain very few cases where crimes of corruption or organised crime have been brought to conclusion in court.
These are issues at the heart of the modernisation of Bulgarian society: for reform to succeed, it needs a consistent and coherent approach based on a broad consensus in Bulgarian society. The fact that this period included three different governments has not helped to build this consensus, though events have also illustrated a widespread public aspiration for reform.
The report contains a number of specific recommendations in the areas of independence, accountability and integrity of the judiciary; reform of the judicial system; efficiency of the judicial system; corruption; and organised crime.
What are the next steps?
The Commission considers that Bulgaria now needs to speed up reform and to demonstrate a strong track record in all areas. The next formal report is likely to come in around one year's time in order to allow the time required to assess tangible results. Between now and then, the Commission will monitor progress closely and on a continuous basis with regular missions, as well as frequent dialogue with the Bulgarian authorities and with other Member States.
The Commission believes that the monitoring process of the CVM, the opportunities provided by EU funds and the constructive engagement of the Commission and many Member States continues to be a valuable support to reform in Bulgaria. The Commission invites Bulgaria to accelerate progress on its recommendations on the reform of the judiciary, integrity and the fight against corruption and organised crime.
Where can the report be found?
The report is available on the following website:
1 : 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. 58).