Bulgaria has received a mixed scorecard from the European Commission in its latest review of the country’s efforts to implement judicial reform and combat organised crime. November’s report took stock of Sofia’s progress in fulfilling the recommendations made by the Commission in January under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM). The CVM was established at the time of Bulgaria and Romania’s accession to the EU to monitor the success of their fight against crime and corruption, areas in which they were seen as lagging far behind the rest of their EU neighbours. The Commission highlighted the “undeniable improvement” brought about by the election of a new Supreme Judicial Council – the statutory body that ensures the independence of the courts. However, it warned that “lingering doubts over the possible undue influence on judges through the SJC could undermine the impression of an independent decision-making process within this key institution.”
The Commission was more cautious in its appraisal of Bulgaria’s anti-corruption drive, which was highlighted in January as being the area in which least progress had been made over the past ten years, despite a new strategy being adopted in 2015. The report noted that the new government presented a revised draft of that strategy to Parliament in October with a view to passing major legislative reform in this area by the end of the year. The Commission urged the government to ensure that appointments to the leadership of the proposed new institution be done in an open and transparent way in order to “command broad-based trust in the wider society, as well as among public officials.”
On organised crime the report found that a “broad change has taken place in the criminal environment over the past ten years” with reduced violent crime posing less of a threat to social stability as Bulgaria moves closer to the European average crime rate. Nevertheless, the Commission recommended improving the system for reporting organised crime to allow the media and public to follow the progress of such cases.
According to Transparency International Bulgaria remains the most corrupt country in the EU, which along with its relatively high rates of organised crime, caused many to doubt its readiness to enter the EU in 2007. It was in response to these concerns that Bulgaria and Romania, which joined at the same time and was the subject of similar criticisms, agreed to sign up to the CVM – a measure that no other candidate country had been asked to do before.
“The report is positive, objective and clearly defining the positive trends and achieved results,” the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice said on its release.
The next CVM assessment is due at the end of 2018.