Bulgaria delivered to the European Commission the promised anti-corruption law. The problem is, this could be a miscarriage, writes Krassen Nikolov.
Krassen Nikolov is a journalist specialised in judiciary affairs. He works for Mediapool and will be a regular contributor for BulgarianPresidency.eu for the six months of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU.
The Bulgarian parliament adopted by a large majority the new special anti-corruption law, rejecting Friday’s veto by President Rumen Radev.
The only parliamentary formation that declared itself “against” the new law was the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). The ruling coalition between Boyko Borrisov’s GERB with the United Patriots was supported by the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS).
DPS declared itself to be opposition but supported a number of governmental initiatives. At the beginning of the week, the party also refused to take part in the BSP-initiated motion of no-confidence against the government, the motive of which was corruption at the summits of power.
Previously, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms had declared support for the vote, but the party’s honorary leader, Ahmed Dogan, drew a new course for the party before New Year’s Eve.
The president’s main argument for his veto was the risk of hijacking by the cabinet of the anti-corruption commission. Its entire composition will be appointed by the will of the ruling majority. By the way, this also means that the anti-corruption officials will also have no protection from political purges. Right now, the number of MPs in the ruling coalition is sufficient for the early removal of a member of the anti-corruption commission.
The president also saw the risk of human rights violations and abuse through the purposeless wiretapping and eavesdropping on citizens and politicians.
The new legislation was promised by the Bulgarian authorities to the European Commission two years ago, but the early end of the mandate of the previous parliament blocked its adoption. Now the promise was fulfilled precisely for the beginning of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU.
Although the law is important for Bulgaria, and the arguments of the president are shared by many non-governmental human rights organizations, the parliamentary debate was short.
The most publicised reaction was Volen Siderov’s, the leader of the extreme nationalists ‘Ataka’ party, the force being part of the United Patriots as junior partner of GERB. Siderov was an outspoken critic of corruption during the previous GERB governments, but since he acceded to the perks of power, he says Bulgaria is no more corrupt than other EU countries.
On Friday, Siderov said that Bulgarian “Sorosoids slander Bulgaria as the most corrupt in the EU” in the Western press, adding that that such assessment was not true. [In Bulgaria and other Central and Eastern European countries, the far-right puts the “Sorosoid” label to anyone who has a common project with the George Soros organization “Open Society”.]
Siderov cited an article about Bulgaria in the British newspaper “Guardian”, which he said was so many times quoted that it had “muted his ears”.
“The publications in the foreign newspapers, which denigrate our country as corrupt, are made by our Sorosoids,” Siderov said. He said that the Guardian refers to statements by the head of the Bulgarian NGO Center for the Study of Democracy Ognian Shentov. According to Siderov, Shentov is an activist of Soros organization.
“It’s a Bulgarian who denigrate us and this from where this dirty stream (against Bulgaria) comes from,” Siderov said. He said he would give Jean-Claude Juncker a bottle of Bulgarian rakia, the local brandy. “In the afternoon, I intend to give Mr. Juncker a bottle of good rakia, I am asking, is this corruption?”
In the last two days, Juncker mentioned how much he likes the Bulgarian Shopska salad and lukanka, a local sausage. He didn’t mention rakia.
BSP leader Kornelia Ninova urged parliament to support the President’s veto, and in the meantime to adopt an “anti-partisan” anti-corruption law.
“Today, GERB is on power, tomorrow it will be BSP – let’s not make a law for a term because corruption is a non-partisan issue”, Ninova said, adding that the president’s veto was the last chance to correct the country’s policy on corruption.
She commented Siderov’s statement with the words: “If the evaluation of the external media is under the influence of the Sorosoids, I ask you, the 83% of the Bulgarian citizens, who define corruption as the number one problem in the government, are they Sorosoids?
“You don’t even recognise corruption as a problem, then how do you intend to fight it?”, Ninova saked, admitting that the debate surrounding the law was born out of a controversy over who would appoint the composition of the anti-corruption commission. BSP had suggested that the chairman of the commission should be appointed by the president, who was supported by the socialists in the elections.
The leader of the GERB Parliamentary Group Tsvetan Tsvetanov came out during the debate.
“The president and the BSP are playing in one team, but we from GERB are in Bulgaria’s team – we will work to fight corruption”, he said, adding: “Today, by rejecting the President’s veto, our country will fulfill us a commitment to the European Commission”, Tsvetanov said.
The future Bulgarian anti-corruption commission will become the fourth body in the country authorised to spy on and track citizens. The others include the Prosecutor’s Office, the Interior Ministry and Counterintelligence – State Agency for National Security (SANS, also known as DANS).
In contrast, the Anti-Corruption Commission has no investigative or intelligence functions. This is why human rights organisations are concerned that the committee will collect sensitive information for politicians and citizens without a clear goal.
Bulgaria has problems with wiretapping and this was established by the European Court of Human Rights as early as 2007. The Strasbourg court then called on Sofia to reduce the possibilities for secret eavesdropping on citizens, amounting to systematic violations of human rights. The only other country with a systemic problem in this area is Russia. Thus far, the authorities in Sofia have not taken serious steps to resolve the issue.