21st Nov 2017

Bulgaria criticised for cosmetic changes to judiciary

In its rush to join the EU, Bulgaria has only carried out "cosmetic changes" to bring the country up to European standards, particularly concerning the judiciary, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said in a report on Tuesday (7 April).

"The whole reform process in Bulgaria has been directed towards the introduction, implementation and consolidation of European standards which allowed Bulgaria to join the European Union as from January 2007," the chair of PACE's monitoring committee, Ukraine's Serhiy Holovaty, said in an informal note posted on the Assembly's website.

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  • Bulgaria has only undergone "cosmetic changes," the Council of Europe body says (Photo: EUobserver)

"Regrettably, 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," he went on.

The 12-page note states that "the judiciary [in Bulgaria] remains stigmatised by the lengthy preliminary proceedings in the criminal justice system, the low number of proceedings against high-level officials and civil servants involved in corruption cases and the non-execution of the Strasbourg Court [the European Court for Human Rights] judgements."

Additionally, it says it is "surprising" that "judges are trained only after their appointment and that there is no system of evaluation of their competences. Obviously, this, added to the widespread perception of corruption, gives rise to the widespread mistrust towards the judiciary."

The report also touches upon Bulgaria's problems with corruption and organised crime, saying that while some progress has been achieved, "Bulgaria remains a country with endemic corruption that has gained the ranks of the administration and the judiciary."

It also points to "human rights abuses by the police," saying that policy impunity and lack of accountability remain a problem.

The weaknesses of the Bulgarian judiciary "have repercussions on most spheres of society which hampers the proper functioning of all democratic institutions," the document concludes, urging Bulgaria to work on these deficiencies.

The PACE report echoes the regular criticism of the new member state by the European Commission. Brussels has repeatedly said that Bulgaria needs to improve its judiciary and do more to combat corruption and organised crime.

In November, Sofia also irreversibly lost €220 million of pre-accession EU funding over its persistent failure to tackle corruption, with the commission saying that most measures taken by the Bulgarian government in the area are "only a promise for future action."

Bulgaria, together with Romania, joined the EU on 1 January 2007.

Both countries have since then been subject to unprecedented monitoring in the field of justice and home affairs in particular.

This year's monitoring report by the commission is expected to be released in July.

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