Bulgaria’s President has rejected a Brussels-backed anti-corruption bill hours after the Baltic nation assumed the EU’s six-month rotating presidency.
Roumen Radev yesterday vetoed the proposed legislation, which was designed to root out intuitional corruption that has blighted the country for decades and punish crooked officials who have managed to avoid prosecution for years.
Radev said the bill, which would have triggered the establishment of a single body tasked with fighting corruption, does not offer an effective investigative framework to adequately probe corruption networks.
In a statement released just one day after his country assumed responsibility for the EU presidency for the first time since it joined the bloc in 2007, Radev said: “I believe that the adopted law not only does not create an adequate legal basis for tackling corruption, but will even make it difficult to fight it.”
Radev said the proposed legislation was not adequately independent, and was too weak to guarantee the prosecution of political opponents, but signalled his support for broader efforts to clamp down on corruption in Bulgaria.
Calling for “a comprehensive and multidisciplinary” solution to the problem, Radev said corruption “restricts the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens, erodes confidence in the state, hampers economic development and investment, and steals the nation’s welfare”.
It had been hoped that the passing of the bill in Bulgaria’s parliament last month would have cleared the issue of corruption off the political agenda before the country assumed the EU presidency.
Instead, Radev’s intervention has placed his country on a collision course with lawmakers in Brussels, who have spent years pressuring Sofia to crack down on graft offences committed by politicians and public officials.
The EU has repeatedly criticised Bulgaria for failing to take action against corrupt public figures and organised criminal groups that operate with near impunity in the country, and has in the past cut funding to Sofia over worries that cash from Brussels could end up in the hands crooked lawmakers.
While Bulgaria’s parliament will now be required to debate the legislation further, MPs have the power to overturn Radev’s veto, which some analysts expect them to use.
Radev’s veto came days after Bulgarian vice-president Iliana Yotova criticised the new bill, claiming “the law will not lead to the long-awaited justice for Bulgarian citizens”.
Bulgaria is the most corrupt country in the EU, according to Transparency International.
Speaking last year after publication of the organisation’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index, Kalin Slavov, CEO of Transparency without Borders, the Bulgarian branch of Transparency International, said it was no surprise that the country performed so poorly in the NGO’s annual assessment of global corruption.
Slavov said Bulgaria’s judicial system was the most corrupt sector in the country, followed by the legislature, and that corruption typically increases when populist leaders are voted into power.