EC Interim Report: Bulgaria Must Stay Reform Course

EC Interim Report: Bulgaria Must Stay Reform Course

The European Commission officially presented its interim report on Bulgaria's progress under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism.

The report takes note of Bulgaria's continued commitment to implement its judicial reform strategy through a detailed action plan. More specifically, the report refers to the following significant developments which have occurred during the last six months:

In the area of judicial reform, Bulgaria adopted important amendments to the Judicial Systems Act. These amendments provide the legal basis for strengthening the accountability and management powers of the Supreme Judicial Council and for improving the system of appointments, professional training, appraisal and promotions in the judiciary. During this period, the Supreme Judicial Council has developed a better disciplinary track record but did not demonstrate the necessary commitment to accountability and transparency in one important appointment decision.

Regarding the fight against corruption and organized crime, Bulgaria decided to create a specialized court and prosecution office for cases related to organized crime. Structural reform of customs continued and an ambitious anti-corruption project started. Bulgaria also adopted amendments to strengthen the law on Conflict of Interest. During the same period, courts pronounced an increased number of verdicts in high-level corruption cases but also registered a number of acquittals regarding some emblematic cases involving high-level corruption, conflict of interest, fraud and organized crime.

EC is also offering recommendations for Bulgaria to continue to pursue a thorough reform of the judicial system and of the police.

The report suggest Bulgaria should take steps to further improve judicial practice and the way the judiciary, police and other investigative bodies are structured, managed and cooperate.

Until the Commission's next assessment in summer 2011, the report also recommends Bulgaria to focus on the adoption of an effective law on asset forfeiture, the establishment of an authority to identify and sanction conflicts of interest and on the track record in corruption cases and organized crime.

Regarding the recent wiretapping scandal that has been shaking Bulgaria since the beginning of the year, the report points out the importance of Bulgaria ensuring strict respect of the rule of law in the application of special investigative means.

The Commission further sets six benchmarks for Bulgaria:

Adopt constitutional amendments removing any ambiguity regarding the independence and accountability of the judicial system.

Ensure a more transparent and efficient judicial process by adopting and implementing a new judicial system act and the new civil procedure code.

Report on the impact of these new laws and of the penal and administrative procedure code, notably on the pre-trial phase.

Continue the reform of the judiciary in order to enhance professionalism, accountability and efficiency. Evaluate the impact of this reform and publish the results annually.

Conduct and report on professional, non-partisan investigations into allegations of high-level corruption. Report on internal inspections of public institutions and on the publication of assets of high-level officials.

Take further measures to prevent and fight corruption, in particular at the borders and within local government.

Implement a strategy to fight organized crime, focusing on serious crime, money laundering as well as on the systematic confiscation of assets of criminals. Report on new and ongoing investigations, indictments and convictions in these areas.

The Commission's reports under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) are published twice a year. The reports are based on contributions from the Bulgarian Government, the Commission services, Member States and NGOs.

The Mechanism was set after Bulgaria's  EU accession on 1 January 2007 over weaknesses remaining in the areas of judicial reform, the fight against corruption and organized crime to assist Bulgaria to remedy these shortcomings but also to regularly verify progress against six benchmarks set for this purpose. /Sourse Sofia News Agency/

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