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19th Jan 2020

Bulgaria's president vetoes anti-corruption bill

  • Bulgaria's EU presidency slogan draped across its 'National Palace of Culture Branding' (Photo: Bulgaria EU presidency)

Bulgaria's president Rumen Radev has vetoed an anti-graft bill following the launch of the country's turn at hosting the EU presidency.

Radev blocked the parliament bill on Tuesday (2 January) over stated concerns that built-in loopholes would undermine its effectiveness.

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"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," he said, in a statement.

The move comes only a day after Bulgaria took on the rotating six-month EU presidency helm, where it will aim to untangle on-going EU-level policy and political disputes over Brexit and migration.

The parliament bill was aimed at weeding out high-level corruption by setting up an anti-graft unit. But the unit's independence was clouded given that its management would be selected by parliament.

The bill had been approved by parliament on 20 December.

Despite the legislative efforts, the Balkan nation of over 7 million people is unlikely to shake off the scourge of corruption anytime soon.

The Sofia-based Centre for the Study of Democracy, in a presentation from November, said some 24 percent of the Bulgarian population over the age of 18 had been pressured into a bribe.

A report out by the same centre described a combination of rampant administrative and high-level political corruption as having led to 'state capture.'

It describes state capture as a "practice of powerful actors capable of acquiring preferential treatment through complex corruption deals and other violations of the law."

Bulgaria remains under European commission supervision given its broad lack of progress in the fight against corruption.

The commission has been issuing annual progress reports since Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007.

Also known as cooperation and verification mechanism (CVM), the reports provide recommendations in the areas of judicial reform, the fight against corruption, and organised crime.

The most recent report said Bulgaria had yet to "satisfactorily fulfill" any of the benchmarks.

A free media is also stalled. Reporters without Borders (RSF) ranks Bulgaria as among the worst offenders of press freedoms - not only in the EU, but worldwide.

Last year, it placed Bulgaria at 109 out of 180. Gabon scored marginally better at 108. The worst offenders were Eritrea with 179 and North Korea at 180.

Among the reasons, it noted, is an active collusion between media, politicians, and oligarchs.

One such oligarch, Deylan Peevski, is the former head of Bulgaria's main intelligence agency.

He now owns the New Bulgarian Media Group and controls some 80 percent of the print media distribution.

The report further notes that the government is shuffling EU funding to friendly media outlets. RSF describes such antics as tantamount to bribing editors to kill critical or hard-hitting stories.

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A dispute between the government and the president over an anti-corruption law has put the spotlight on one of the Bulgaria's main problems - just as it is trying to showcase its economic and social progress.

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