The European Commission has published its regular annual reports under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism for Bulgaria and Romania.
The report for Bulgaria includes an assessment on meeting the indicative benchmarks for justice and home affairs since its last full report (23 July 2008). It also makes recommendations to Bulgaria based on this assessment.
The report says that there is “a change in attitude and a more open and frank dialogue at all levels with the Bulgarian authorities”.
In more specific points, the report finds that:
- The establishment of a permanent Joint Team for the Suppression of Offenses against the EU Financial System is an excellent initiative;
- Killings linked with organized crime continue and known criminals are not apprehended;
- Organizational overlaps continue in the new structure of the Ministry of Internal Affairs which has not yet led to increased effectiveness in the investigation of serious crime;
- Delays in criminal cases are largely caused by the extreme formality of the criminal procedure, a certain passivity of the bench and the seemingly limitless possibilities offered by the criminal procedure law to defendants to stall the proceedings;
- The Inspectorate to the Supreme Judicial Council has become fully operational and has achieved an encouraging track record in the investigation of disciplinary violations and of systemic weaknesses of judicial practice;
- There is a need for a more pro-active approach for fighting corruption in vulnerable areas and sectors such as health or education.
On the question of possible invocation of the safeguard clause, the Commission concludes that this is not necessary. According to the report:
“The kind of deep seated changes that are needed can only come from within Bulgarian society. The CVM is a support tool in this endeavour; it is not an end in itself nor can it replace commitment that Bulgarian authorities need to make in order to align the judicial system and practice with general EU standards.”
Posted in Bulgaria, Enlargement, Institutional Affairs, Justice and Internal Affairs
Tagged Bulgaria, Bulgarian Judiciary, Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council, Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, Corruption, indicative benchmarks, organized crime, recommendations, regular report, Romania, safeguard clause
Two events have further shaken my confidence in the Bulgarian judiciary system.
First, the case for the murder of Bulgarian student Stoyan Baltov was referred yesterday by the Sofia City Court back to the prosecution for further investigation because the rights of the defendants have been “breached”. One of the suspected killers, Vili Georgiev, was freed from jail and put under house arrest.
Stoyan Baltov was beaten to death in front of a disco club in December 2008. The students’ protests in January 2009 against this deplorable murder were brutally dispersed by police force. I happened to participate in the protests and my account of the events is available here.
In another move, the Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council has given excellent marks for the professional attestation of Nelly Batanova – the judge that acquitted the murderers of Martin Borilski. Martin Borilski was a Bulgarian student in Paris who was killed there in 2001. The French authorities carried out an investigation and provided all materials to the Bulgarian prosecution.
However, two courts in Bulgaria consecutively found the murderers not guilty, including the court chamber under the presidency of Mrs. Batanova. Now the Paris Appellate Court has ordered a new trial to begin in France against the same suspects.
I fail to understand these developments.
Franz-Hermann Brüner, director general of OLAF, said during the presentation of the annual report of the anti-fraud office that “Some criminals are still dancing around us and the Bulgarian government, and I don’t like it.”
According to him, Bulgarian courts are the weakest link in the judiciary. He believes that political pressure on the judiciary system must be relieved.
Dutch Minister of European Affairs Frans Timermans has asked the Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot to consider the possible activation of the safeguard clause for the judiciary together with the forthcoming publication of the CVM report on Romania and Bulgaria.
This comes after the “Borilski” case controversy in Bulgaria that may prompt a de facto invocation of the safeguard clause by France.
Serhiy Holovaty, chairman of the Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has issued a report with findings from his visit in Bulgaria in November 2008.
“It is my general impression that, in the haste to meet the strenuous accession deadlines, some of the reforms and, in particular, the reform of the judiciary, have undergone numerous “cosmetic changes” that have pushed the reforms in an undesired direction. This was namely the case of the constitutional amendments and the amendments to the Judicial System Act adopted in February 2007.”
He pinpoints three specific problems:
- lengthy preliminary proceedings in the criminal justice system;
- low number of proceedings against high-level officials and civil servants involved in corruption cases;
- non-execution of the Strasbourg Court judgments due to a low rate of reopening of criminal court cases following a judgment of the Strasbourg Court and to the absence of legal provisions enabling to do so in civil cases.
He goes on to say that:
“Bulgaria remains a country with endemic corruption that has gained the ranks of the administration and the judiciary. (…)The weaknesses of the judiciary in Bulgaria have repercussions on most spheres of society which hampers the proper functioning of all democratic institutions.”
Now, it remains to be seen exactly in WHAT political context can the Bulgarian government explain any bias or ill will on behalf of Mr. Holovaty.
The European Commission for Democracy Through Law (the Venice Commission ) has issued a report on the draft Law amending and supplementing the Law on Judicial Power of Bulgaria. as usual, the report is very balanced and written with substantial expertise.
Overall, the report supports the proposed amendments, but considers that the reform should be much more substantial.
An important critique in the report is towards some remaining elements of prosecutors’ powers “typically found in the traditional Soviet-style prokuratura model”. The report also reminds the Venice Commission objection to the fact that 11 members of the Supreme Judicial Council are still elected by Parliament by simple majority. The authors consider that the combination of powers in relation to judges prosecutors and investigators in a single judicial council (such as powers of appointment and discipline) remains problematical.