Tag Archives: Bulgaria

2011 Reports for Bulgaria and Romania under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism

The European Commission has published its fifth progress reports for Bulgaria and Romania under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) for 2011. The reports monitor the progress of the two Member States on progress with judicial reform, the fight against corruption and, concerning Bulgaria, the fight against organized crime.

The report on Bulgaria notes that Bulgaria has strengthened the Supreme Judicial Council and improved rules for the appointment, professional training, appraisals and promotions of judges. Several organised crime and corruption cases have reached verdicts in court. At the same time, an increased number of indictments in cases related to organised crime and fraud with EU funds have been achieved. The report notes that the leadership of the Bulgarian judiciary has yet to show a real commitment to thorough judicial reform as slow progress is not just the result of shortcomings in judicial practice and in the Penal Code. Again and again the Commission points out that judicial appointments still lack the necessary level of transparency and credibility. The report also notes that there is a lack of consistent disciplinary practice in the judiciary. The Commission sees weaknesses in the collection of evidence, the protection of witnesses as well as in investigative strategies, comprehensive financial investigations and the securing of assets. The Commission recommends that coordination within the prosecution and between the prosecution and the police should be improved. The most important recommendation of the Commission is to establish proposals for a reform of the Supreme Judicial Council, the Supreme Cassation Prosecution Office and the Prosecution in general regarding structures, legal attributions, composition, appointments and internal organization.

The report on Romania points to the significant steps Romania took since the last annual report of July 2010. Romania improved judicial efficiency, re-established the legal basis of the National Integrity Agency, continued preparations for the implementation of the four new codes, launched preparations for a functional review of the judicial system and carried out an impact analysis of its anti-corruption policy. At the same time, the report also notes that consistency and results in a number of areas remain a challenge and that progress in the fight against corruption still needs to be pursued. The report concludes that Romania needs to take urgent action to accelerate high-level corruption trials and to prevent their prescription due to expiry of statute-barred periods. The fight against corruption should remain a top priority, with support from Parliament, and urgent measures should be taken to improve the recovery of proceeds of crime, the pursuit of money laundering and the protection against conflict of interest in the management of public funds.

 

 

Politics under the (Fake) Academic Banner

Everybody has now heard about the plagiarism scandal surrounding the doctoral thesis of the German defense minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. Meanwhile it turned out that the son of Muamar Gadaffi, Seif-al-Islam, has got a PhD from the London School of Economics that was in part plagiarized from Wikipedia.

Meanwhile to the East, Russian bureaucrats try to disguise their ignorance by acquiring doctorates or professorships while in office. It just turned out that the chairman of the Bulgarian commission in charge of seizing illegally acquired assets is not a professor, as he has claimed.

So what is it all about??? Why this struggle for academic titles? It must be linked to the status and prestige of these titles, of course. But it also signals incompetence that attempts to mask itself. In order words, these are the symptoms of both deep complacency in political life and lax academic standards.

The (Un)Importance of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism

The new set of reports under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) for Bulgaria and Romania were published by the Commission. The mechanism is used by the Commission to monitor the progress of both countries in the fields of judicial reform, corruption and organised crime. But does the mechanism matter?

It’s difficult to say. The CVM was an instrument used to extend conditionality beyond the accession date for Bulgaria and Romania. For three years after the accession the EU could impose safeguard clauses, including a specific safeguard clause in the area of justice and home affairs (art. 36 of the Accession Treaty). However, this period has expired. It the strict sense of the word CVM is no longer a conditionality instrument. Eli Gateva has written a very good paper on this, explaining that the absence of accession rewards combined with toothless explicit threats for sanctioning non-compliance produce very weak negative incentive structure.

On the other hand both the Bulgarian and Romanian governments pay attention to the recommendations in the reports and at least try to act on them. One reason for this can be the difficulty of acceding to the Schengen area. Both France and Germany have linked the two issues, although they are not legally dependent. So one may argue that the accession to the Schengen area is now a new conditionality tool, used to push reforms of the judiciary in Bulgaria and Romania.

There is also another interpretation – that “old” Member States have given up hope of achieving effective structural reforms of the judiciary in Bulgaria and Romania, and are trying to mitigate the damage by denying access to the Schengen area. This strategy will fail. Neglecting the structural deficits of law enforcement and the judiciary in Bulgaria and Romania can have wide-ranging implications for the whole European Union. It is not possible to “isolate” both countries in some sort of a triage. Their weaknesses impact negatively the overall security of the EU, and of the separate Member States.

That is why the CVM is still useful – at least as an instrument for diagnosis.

 

 

What is Going on in Bulgaria, Really?

Taped conversations, published by a Bulgarian newspaper, allegedly expose a cover-up of smuggling schemes by the Bulgarian Minister of the Interior, Tzvetan Tzvetanov. The full transcripts of the tapes reveal pressure on part of Tsvetanov on Customs Agency Director Vanyo Tanov, who complains that Tsvetanov and the Ministry of the Interior are pressing him and his staff not to check on potential abuses by certain large companies, and to focus instead on others. The only company mentioned by name which has allegedly benefited from this protection is Lukoil Bulgaria (a daughter company of the Russian Lukoil conglomerate). The CEO of Lukoil Bulgaria is allegedly a close friend of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. According to the leaked US embassy cable on organized crime in Bulgaria, Lukoil’s Bulgarian operations are suspected of strong ties to Russian intelligence and organized crime.

A caveat must be made: nobody has confirmed the authenticity of the tapes. The content is not conclusive and is subject to interpretation.

In any case this is worrying. Until now the Customs Agency Director has not denied the contents of the conversations.

In the light of these revelations the reservations of France and Germany over Bulgaria’s accession to the Schengen area appear more justified. The Prime Minister must take really decisive steps to dispel any suspicion of wrongdoing.

 

 

The Gates to Schengen Remain Locked for Bulgaria and Romania

France and Germany have officially announced that they will block the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen area, Euractiv reports. The main deficiencies in both countries that they outline are the absence of a satisfactory juridical and administrative environment in the fields of security and justice, persisting corruption at different levels and worrying levels of organised crime.

This letter does not come as a surprise to this blogger. I have time and again noted that both Bulgaria and Romania are facing significant challenges in the reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption and organized crime. Two questions, however, linger on.

The first question is whether Bulgaria and Romania were fit to become Member States in 2007. The European Commission believed so, and so did France and Germany at the time. However, this leads to the logical conclusion that both countries in fact experienced a deterioration of the rule of law since accession.

The second question is whether Bulgaria and Romania can actually, at any point in the future, join the Schengen area. This is not an absurd question, since if separate Member States reaffirm their right of individual assessment of the quality of the judicial systems of candidates, it may turn out that both Bulgaria and Romania are assessed against unachievable standards that surpass the present level of rule of law in the Schengen area. Again, this is a logically derived possibility.

France and Germany should understand that answering both questions will have its consequences for the level of solidarity and cohesion in the European Union.

 

 

The Paradoxical Success of Bulgarian Commissioners

They are women and they come from Bulgaria. And they are also very, very successful.

Both Bulgarian commissioners – Kristalina Georgieva and Meglena Kuneva, have earned the respect of their colleagues at the European Commission. Both of them have also been named European of the Year by European Voice.

Now Kristalina Georgieva was not only named European of the Year, but was also voted European commissioner of the year. This comes after a failure of the previous Bulgarian candidate, Rumyana Jeleva, during her hearing in the European Parliament.

So a natural question arises – why are both Bulgarian commissioners so effective given the fact that Bulgaria is the poorest and one of the most corrupt Member States?

Both Kristalina Georgieva and Meglena Kuneva are extraordinary personalities, for sure. But their promotion in the European Commission signifies the fact that Bulgaria does have qualified public officials that are capable of working hard on their agenda. The trouble is that Bulgarian politics do not encourage the promotion of such figures in the national government. At least now we know what we should be looking for.

 

 

Expelling the Roma: Is It Legal?

The recent police operation in France leading to the expulsion of thousands of Roma citizens of Romania and Bulgaria has been a hot topic in the news for some time. Now Euractiv reports that Italy has also plans to expel Roma citizens of other Member States.

The big question here is – is it legal?

There are two separate legal systems that must be assessed in this case. One is the European Union law, and the other is the European Convention on Human Rights. These two systems must not be mixed together in the analysis, and they have different outcomes.

Let’s start with EU law. The citizens of the European Union have the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States, subject to the limitations and conditions laid down in the Treaties and by the measures adopted to give them effect (art 3, para. 2 TEU; art. 20, para. 2, “a” and art. 21 TFEU). Most of these limitations and conditions are provided in Directive 2004/38/EC on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States. The main principle of Directive 2004/38/EC is that the right of residence for Union citizens and their family members for periods in excess of three months is subject to conditions. This is very important to note, since many EU citizens mistakenly believe that their right of residence is unconditional.

These conditions for the right of residence over three months are spelled out in art. 7 of Directive 2004/38/EC. The resident should be a worker or self-employed person in the host Member State or should have sufficient resources for himself and the family members in order not to become a burden on the social assistance system of the host Member State. Art. 14 stipulates the conditions for an expulsion measure and specifically points out that the expulsion measure should not be the automatic consequence of a Union citizen’s recourse to the social assistance system of the host Member State.

In addition to that Member States may restrict the freedom of movement and residence of Union citizens and their family members, irrespective of nationality, on grounds of public policy, public security or public health. Measures taken on grounds of public policy or public security must comply with the principle of proportionality and must be based exclusively on the personal conduct of the individual concerned. The personal conduct of the individual concerned must represent a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat affecting one of the fundamental interests of society. Justifications that are isolated from the particulars of the case or that rely on considerations of general prevention cannot be accepted (art. 27, para. 2 of Directive 2004/38/EC).

These texts are very concrete, and they raise important questions about the conduct of French authorities. In each and every case of expulsions the French state must have assessed the personal conduct of the individual, any general policy concerns notwithstanding. The information that is delivered by the media in this case is insufficient to assess the legality of the actions of the French Ministry of the Interior, but I am quite skeptical that they have been able to go though individual assessment of personal conduct in each of the cases. More, the reference to the ethnicity of the persons expelled is a serious breach of the principle of non-discrimination (art. 19, para. 1 TEU).

That being said, it is the European Commission that must decide whether in this case France has breached the relevant texts of Directive 2004/38/EC. I would also urge the European Ombudsman to independently observe this case.

Apart from the considerations about EU law, France is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, has voiced some criticism towards the measures. Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms explicitly prohibits the collective expulsion of aliens. Now the question is whether the actions of French authorities constitute such a collective expulsion.

In conclusion the actions of the French authorities for the mass expulsion of Roma citizens of other member states may breach relevant EU law and texts of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. France should restrain from any actions that constitute collective expulsion. The European Commission should fully investigate this case. The Council of Europe should also carefully monitor this case.