Why does the Commission report on progress in judicial reform, the fight against corruption and organised crime in Bulgaria?
Upon accession of Bulgaria on 1 January 2007, certain weaknesses remained in the areas of judicial reform, the fight against corruption and organised crime that could prevent an effective application of EU-laws, policies and programmes and prevent Bulgarians from enjoying their full rights as EU citizens. Therefore, the Commission took the obligation within the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism to assist Bulgaria to remedy these shortcomings but also to regularly verify progress against six benchmarks set for judiciary reform, the fight against corruption and the fight against organised crime. These benchmarks are interlinked. They need to be seen together as part of a broad reform of the judicial system and the fight against corruption and organised crime for which a long term political commitment is needed.
How does the Commission report on progress in Bulgaria?
The Commission's reports under the Cooperation and verification Mechanism (CVM) are published twice a year. They are based on contributions from the Bulgarian Government, the Commission services, Member States and NGOs.
The last report published on 23 July 2008 gave a comprehensive assessment of progress under each of the six benchmarks. It concluded that Bulgaria was committed to judicial reform and to cleansing the system of corruption and organised crime and has prepared the necessary draft laws, action plans and programmes. However, there was still a clear weakness in translating these intentions into tangible results.
As the time period since this report was considered too short to allow Bulgaria to remedy all shortcomings and for the Commission to revisit the assessment, the present report contains only a factual update of progress. It deliberately abstains from providing a detailed assessment of results achieved under each of the benchmarks but notes some concerns on how progress has been evolving. These concerns need to be addressed by Bulgaria before the Commission carries out a full assessment again mid 2009. The last detailed report of 23 July 2008 remains the point of reference with regard to the main challenges ahead.
What does today's report say?
The current report takes note of some initial steps towards structural and legislative reform taken within the prosecution office, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior. These measures need to be sustained and further extended in order to deliver concrete results:
In the field of judiciary reform , the Inspectorate to the Supreme Judicial Council has gained some operational capacity. The Supreme Judicial Council launched an analysis of the disciplinary case law, started to examine why cases are sent back to the prosecution and set up a reporting mechanism on the movements of cases. Further measures have been announced in order to reduce an uneven workload of courts, improve administrative management of courts and the transparency of appointment procedures at management level. On the legislative side, the Law on Conflict of Interest has been adopted and the Public Procurement Act been amended.
With regard to the fight against corruption and organised crime, the Commission has taken note of the launching of the pilot project on joint investigation teams composed of representatives of the prosecution, the State Agency for National Security (SANS), and the Ministry of the Interior. The next steps should be indictments regarding the serious crime groups targeted by these joint teams. Steps to reform the Ministry of the Interior and to clarify the competences in the investigation of crime have been taken, but results are not yet measurable. The Ministry of the Interior and SANS must still develop transparent procedures, in particular on the use of special surveillance means and the extension of the powers of investigating police forces. Effective parliamentary control over SANS must be established. Legislation on land swaps, party financing and the forfeiture of criminal assets is awaited. Legislation on the conflict of interest must be effectively implemented.
What are the next steps?
In order to demonstrate systemic and irreversible change, Bulgaria needs to show that it has put in place an autonomously functioning, stable judiciary which is able to detect and sanction conflicts of interests, corruption and organized crime and preserve the rule of law. This means in particular to adopt the remaining laws which are needed to complete the legal system and to show through concrete cases of indictments, trials and convictions regarding high-level corruption and organised crime that the legal system is capable of implementing the laws in an independent and efficient way.
The next assessment of progress by the Commission in summer 2009 will show to which extent Bulgaria has been able to address the shortcomings in the reform of the judiciary and to produce convincing and tangible results in the fight against corruption and organised crime.
What are the six benchmarks set for Bulgaria?
The following benchmarks have been set for Bulgaria in the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism:
1.Adopt constitutional amendments removing any ambiguity regarding the independence and accountability of the judicial system.
2.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.
3.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.
4.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.
5.Take further measures to prevent and fight corruption, in particular at the borders and within local government.
6.Implement a strategy to fight organised crime, focussing 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.
Where can the report be found?
The report is available on the following website: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/secretariat_general/cvm/index_en.htm
 Commission Decision 2006/929/EC of 13 December 2006 establishing a mechanism for cooperation and verification of progress in Bulgaria to address specific benchmarks in the areas of judicial reform and the fight against corruption and organized crime (OJ L 354, 14.12.2006, p. 56).