The European Parliament adopted an unprecedented resolution Thursday with 358 votes in favor, 277 against and 56 abstentions, calling out the decline of rule of law and growing corruption in Bulgaria. The left, liberals and greens managed to pull enough support to overcome the votes against by the largest party in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party. PM Boyko Borissov’s party GERB is a member of the EPP and received support during the debates from its leader. A Bulgarian opposition leader, Radan Kanev, however, is also an MEP from the same group. He was not allowed to speak by the party during the debates. He later submitted his statement in writing. He also voted in favor.
On Wednesday, the far-right Bulgarian MEP Angel Dzhambazki and Maltese Reberta Metsola tabled amendments to the draft resolution to soften the harsh tone of the texts but those were rejected by the European Parliament. An earlier version of the proposed amendments even suggested the anti-government protests in Bulgaria – which have been going on for over three months – are paid – a go-to GERB talking point, when confronted with questions about the situation. Metsola edited out the claim in the proposal after public backlash.
The final draft of the resolution, adopted by the European Parliament acknowledges the decline of rule in Bulgaria in harsh terms:
"[The European Parliament] deeply regrets that the developments in Bulgaria have led to significant deterioration of respect for the principles of rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights, including the independence of the judiciary, separation of powers, the fight against corruption and freedom of the media and manifests its solidarity with the people of Bulgaria in their legitimate demands and aspirations for justice, transparency, accountability and democracy."
The resolution goes on to express disappointment and concern regarding lack of convictions among high ranking officials, and insists on establishing control over use of EU funds. Another amendment by the far-right MEPs, which was rejected, was to include a section, which calls for ending the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism. On the contrary, the final version of the draft recognizes some progress has been made due to the CVN and calls for the Commission to continue monitoring the judicial reform and corruption in Bulgaria under the mechanism.
The European Commission has also criticized Bulgaria for lack of convictions regarding misuse of EU funds, although their abuse is a public secret. MEP Claire Daly, speaking during the debates, called EU funds the very "bloodline", which feeds corrupt high level officials in Bulgaria. Vice PM Tomislav Donchev, in contrast, recently declared the control of EU spending by this administration "excellent."
The resolution also calls out police violence against citizens and journalists during the antigovernment protests, as well as the "unlawful and excessive audits of private businesses, who have publicly expressed their support for the protests."
As any other European document regarding the Bulgarian judicial system, this one also highlights "the absence of any effective mechanisms for accountability or functioning checks and balances of [the work of the Prosecutor General and the Supreme Judicial Council]" and insists Bulgarian authorities "fully comply" with the numerous recommendations and rules in reference to this issue.
The document even airs some concern over the ruling party’s push for amendments to the Elections Act so close to the regular elections: if this government fulfills its term, elections are due next March.
"The rule of law means separation of powers, but allegations of judicial corruption and politically-driven prosecutions proliferate. It means media freedom, but we witness the government exerting increasing influence on public media and applying clientelism when it comes to private media. It means upholding civil rights, but we are witnessing police brutality and the suppression of the rights of minorities", the author of the draft Juan Aguilarsaid.
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