Friday

15th Nov 2019

EU raises alarm on Bulgaria corruption

  • Sofia: anti-corruption measures 'in infancy' after seven years of special EU monitoring (Photo: Klearchos Kapoutsis)

Seven years after joining the EU, Bulgaria has done little to curb corruption and organised crime in a threat to its sovereignty and to European unity.

The Balkan country of 7.5 million people, the EU’s poorest, has a “serious” problem with high-level corruption, while preventive measures are still “in their infancy” the European Commission has said in a monitoring report due out on Wednesday (28 January).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

It also has a problem with organised crime, with little protection for witnesses and “very low” rates of conviction and asset seizure.

Lack of independence in the judiciary and political instability are making matters worse, the report added.

“The fact that the period covered by this report [since January 2014] saw three different governments and a deadlocked parliamentary situation has clearly contributed to a lack of resolve to reform”.

Drilling into more detail, the 11-page paper, seen by EUobserver, commended Sofia on recently drawing up an “honest assessment” of its shortfalls in the anti-corruption field. It also said the forced resignation of a top anti-corruption official for “trading in influence” is a good sign.

But it described efforts to clean up the administration as “piecemeal” and “unco-ordinated”, with “the impression that decisions … are being taken on political grounds” and with very few high-level prosecutions “despite the scale of the problem”.

It said “pressures at a local level” hamper the fight against the Bulgarian mafia.

It added that the “burdensome” and “formalistic” criminal code slows down courts, while use of outside experts in investigations raises “questions of … impartiality”.

It noted Bulgaria needs “more transparency and objectivity” on judicial appointments and that a new system on allocation of cases to specific prosecutors remains open to abuse.

Meanwhile, Romanian media say that a parallel commission report to be published also on Wednesday gives Bulgaria’s larger neighbour more credit for reform.

But it accuses the Romanian parliament of failing to respect Constitutional Court judgements and of acting too slowly to lift the immunity of MPs in criminal cases.

It praises the growing number of corruption cases against judges and prosecutors but, as in Bulgaria, it complains that conviction and asset confiscation rates lag behind.

It also says corruption in the education and healthcare systems remains an issue.

Romania last year elected a reformist president - ethnic German Klaus Iohannis - in what commentators say bodes well for future progress.

But the so-called Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) reports will make sad reading for Bulgarian and Romanian politicians hoping to join the EU’s passport-free Schengen travel zone after years of delay.

They also come in a climate of increased Schengen vigilance after the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris.

In Bulgaria’s case, high-level corruption was recently identified as a threat to the country’s sovereignty and to its ability to follow EU lines on foreign and energy policy.

Sofia last year abandoned construction of Russia’s South Stream gas pipeline due to EU legal objections. But the decision caused a backlash by pro-Russian elements in the Bulgarian elite, prompting a political crisis.

For his part, US secretary of state John Kerry, who visited Sofia on 16 January, noted that the fight against graft is “about providing the climate for investment and shielding the country from those who exploit the situation to gain undue influence over your choices as a sovereign nation”.

He said the US will help Bulgaria, which gets 100 percent of its gas from Russia, to be less dependent.

He also warned that “whether or not Russia were to choose, for whatever reason, some other form of retribution [against Bulgaria for its South Stream decision] is obviously something to be seen as we go forward”.

“We stand ready … to be supportive of Bulgaria in this time of economic and security challenge”, he said.

Opinion

How the EU can help Bulgaria avert another banking crisis

To date European policymakers appear to have paid little attention to Bulgaria’s financial drama. Now is the time for the EU to engage, and encourage reforms to the governance of the central bank.

Bulgaria seen as most corrupt in EU

The latest report from Transparency International ranks Bulgaria as the most corrupt in terms of perception in the entire EU.

Feature

Widow's plea as EU diplomats debate Magnitsky Act

"If evil is not defeated, it tends to expand", Natalia Magnitsky, the widow of a Russian anti-corruption activist, has said, as EU diplomats discuss human rights sanctions 10 years after his death.

News in Brief

  1. Catalan politicians extradition hearing postponed
  2. Germany: EU banking union deal possible in December
  3. EIB: no more funding of fossil-fuel projects
  4. UK defence chief: Russia could trigger World War III
  5. Hungary's Varhelyi will face more questions
  6. Police put former Berlusconi MEP Comi under house arrest
  7. MEPs criticise Poland for criminalising sex education
  8. UK will not name new commissioner before election

Stalling on VAT reform costing billions, says Commission

German media outlet Correctiv, along with other newsrooms, have revealed how criminals annually cheat EU states out of billions in VAT fraud. The EU Commission says solutions exist - but member states refuse to budge on tax unanimity.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Latest News

  1. Key moments for new commission This WEEK
  2. EU threatens legal action against UK over commissioner
  3. Corruption in the Balkans: the elephant in the room
  4. Green MEPs unconvinced by Romanian commissioner
  5. EU states fell short on sharing refugees, say auditors
  6. Hungary's commissioner-to-be grilled over loyalty to Orban
  7. Widow's plea as EU diplomats debate Magnitsky Act
  8. Leftist MEPs call on EU to address crisis in Chile

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us