Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, centre, at the launch of the specialised criminal court in January 2012
Developments in Bulgaria in recent months point to a need for stronger action in a number of areas to implement European Commission recommendations to bring the country up to EU standards in judicial reform and the fight against corruption and organised crime.
This is according to a technical report on Bulgaria’s progress under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism, which was put in place when the country joined the EU in 2007, to help achieve EU standards in justice and home affairs.
The report, adopted by the European Commission on February 8 2012, is a technical one and contains no political conclusions, EC spokesperson Mark Gray told a news conference – at the same time underlining the Commission’s adamant view that no link should be made between the CVM process and whether Bulgaria should be admitted to the Schengen visa zone.
The Commission held that Bulgaria, like Romania – which also is subject to a CVM process – met all the criteria for Schengen membership.
The CVM technical report of February 8 included among "main developments" the fact that Bulgaria’s new specialised court and prosecution office for organised crime had started work.
The report also noted that the Commission for the Identification and Forfeiture of Criminal Assets had delivered significant results.
The newly-established commission to identify and sanction conflicts of interest had taken its first decisions.
In addition, Bulgaria had initiated measures to improve judicial practice, the organisation of the prosecution and co-operation among the various authorities.
The report also pointed to areas where further progress was expected in the coming months.
These include the adoption of asset forfeiture legislation, taking a more comprehensive approach in reforming judicial and investigative practice, enhancing the role of the Supreme Judicial Council in the reform of the judiciary and achieving convincing results in the fight against corruption and organised crime.
Setting out specific areas where "stronger action" was needed, the report said that a new law on asset forfeiture currently being debated in Parliament should be comprehensive and backed up by strong institutions.
An analysis of shortcomings in judicial and investigative practice in important cases should be undertaken in a comprehensive way, and promotions and appraisals within the judiciary should be fully transparent and objective.
A reform of the election process of the Supreme Judicial Council is needed to enhance the Council's transparency and integrity and as an important step towards a fundamental reform of the judicial system, the report said.
"The track record of decisions and penalties in cases related to high-level corruption, fraud and organised crime under investigation and in court should demonstrate the convincing results needed to provide effective dissuasion."
Further efforts are needed during the coming months in order to demonstrate convincing results and to contribute to the Commission's overall assessment in summer 2012 of progress achieved by Bulgaria under the CVM since its accession to the EU, the EC said.
"The Commission will continue to support Bulgaria in its reform efforts."