Bulgaria's Interior, Justice Chiefs Argue They Did EU Homework

Bulgaria in EU | June 19, 2012, Tuesday // 19:39|  views

Bulgaria has fulfilled all recommendations of the European Commission on justice and home affairs, its Interior and Justice Ministers have argued in Brussels.

Their claims come amidst growing criticism by the EC over the government's failure to introduce a direct election of the Supreme Judicial Council (VSS), the country's top judiciary institution, by all Bulgarian magistrates, and about a month before the annual EC monitoring report under the so called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, which observes Bulgaria and Romania's progress with corruption, organized crime, and judicial reform.

According to Bulgaria's Justice Minister, Bulgaria has met the EU demands on the upcoming election of the Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council (VSS), the country's top judiciary institution.

"I think there is no misunderstanding between Bulgaria and the European Commission. Bulgaria has fulfilled all recommendations on the upcoming election of the VSS that have been included in the EC monitoring report. The report contained recommendations for more public procedures, not for direct election of the VSS," Justice Minister Diana Kovacheva stated, as cited by BNR.

"There is no reason for the upcoming monitoring report for Bulgaria to be negative because it will reflect Bulgaria's progress in 5 years of EU membership," Kovacheva also said.

"We have complied with all EU recommendations in all reports issued so far," Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said in turn.

He did say that in his view when Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007 it was technically not ready to be admitted without safeguard clauses and post-accession monitoring.

In the past three months, the European Commission has insisted four times that Bulgaria's top judicial body, the Supreme Judicial Council (VSS) be elected directly.

In late April 2012, EC Secretary-General Catherine Day sent letter to the Bulgarian authorities, as represented by Justice Minister Diana Kovacheva, that they need to introduce a direct election of the VSS members by the end of 2012 for those members of the Council that are elected by the judiciary, i.e. the so called magistrate quota.

Day is in charge of the EC reports monitoring the post-accession progress of Bulgaria and Romania in the field of judiciary reform, and combating organized crime and corruption under the so called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, publishing progress reports twice a year since 2007.

According to the letter of the EC Secretary-General sent to Sofia on April 24, 2012, the introduction of the direct election of the members of the Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council, a body that has often been criticized for spurring scandals or failing to crack down on scandalous issues, by all members of the judiciary will be crucial for a more tangible judicial reform.

Catherine Day insisted that the direct election of the VSS members must be employed in time for the formation of the new Council in the fall of 2012.

At present, the Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council is elected by delegates representing the judges and prosecutors working in the judicial system. The latest changes to the legislation are said to provide for greater representation, with each voting delegate representing five judges or prosecutors instead of ten, as was the case earlier.

The latest amendments also introduce a more thorough procedure for the election of those VSS members that come from the so called parliamentary quota, and are elected by the Parliament.

In the fall of 2012, the Bulgarian Parliament is to elect 11 members of the VSS, and the judiciary will be entitled to elect the other 11 under the existing procedures.

The new Supreme Judicial Council will have to make key choices by electing Bulgaria's new Chief Prosecutor (current Chief Prosecutor Boris Velchev's seven-year term is set to expire), the Director of the National Investigation Service, the head of the Supreme Court of Cassassion, as well as a large number of judges and prosecutors.

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Tags: Supreme Court of Cassation, National Investigation Service, Boris Velchev, Chief Prosecutor, prosecutors, judges, magistrates, judicial reform, judicial system, judiciary, Catherine Day, European Commission, EC, Supreme Judicial Council, VSS, Diana Kovacheva


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