Former Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon II Saxe-Coburg-Gotha has a real chance to condemn the state before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in the case of the so-called “royal properties”. Krassen Nikolov has the story.
Krassen Nikolov is a journalist specialised in judiciary affairs. He works for Mediapool and is a regular contributor for BulgarianPresidency.eu for the six months of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU.
The court gave today (12 April) five months to both sides to reach an agreement, and if this would not happen, the court will issue a final ruling.
The child monarch who was deposed in 1946 spent most of his life in exile in Spain and was the country’s prime minister in the period 2001-2005. During that time he managed to retake ownership of several palaces and residences which were confiscated from the royal family by the communist regime.
Simeon’s property problems started in 2008, when he was still in the country, no longer as Prime Minister, but as a coalition partner with Bulgarian Socialist Party BSP and the Movement of Rights and Freedoms MRF. He then demanded the return of another “royal” residence – “Krichim”, near Plovdiv.
The District Governor of Plovdiv, Todor Petkov (from BSP), refused to return the residence, and the former prime minister decided to sue the state before a Bulgarian court, demanding that the property be returned to him. The Bulgarian court ruled that the residence was built with money from the institution that served the Bulgarian kings and not with the personal funds of the monarchs. Thus, the claims of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha for Krichim were rejected. The case triggered a series of claims by the state against Simeon II for the other properties of which he had already taken possession.
Now the court in Strasbourg rejected the former prime minister’s appeal regarding the Bulgarian magistrates’ decision on Krichim. The European Court of Justice stated that the Bulgarian courts judgement on the Krichim case was well documented and well grounded.
The problem for the Bulgarian state is rooted in the actions of the parliament since 2009. At that time the first government of GERB came to power, and the parliament voted a moratorium on the sale and commercial use of all property returned by the state to Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. The ban was then declared provisional until the adoption of a law to settle the issue of these properties. The purpose of the parliament was to secure the documentation that the state needed for the court cases it was planning to intent for determining the ownership of the properties. Nine years have passed, the moratorium has not been canceled, no law was adopted, and some of the court cases are still outstanding.
In the end, it is likely that Bulgaria will have to compensate Saxe-Coburg-Gotha for having infringed his rights.
Simeon II and his sister Maria-Louisa Chrobok are complaining in Strasbourg that the moratorium has put them in a situation of legal uncertainty. They have no right of access to a court to challenge the moratorium, as civil courts cannot rule on parliamentary decisions which decisions have the power of laws. This can only be done by the Constitutional Court, but Simeon II was no longer in power and had no right to turn to it.
The Strasbourg court will assess whether Bulgaria has breached the protection of property, the right to a fair trial and the right to fair compensation. The judgments of the Bulgarian courts, which recognise the state as the owner of the Saragjol and Sitnyakovo palaces, will be examined. Unlike the Krichim residence, they were already returned to Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and then they were taken away from him after the court’s decision.
“I want to believe that the five-month term (given by the Strasbourg court) could lead to a civilized and just agreement, to avoid a situation where a former prime minister and a monarch would condemn his country”, said attorney Mikhail Ekimdzhiev, who is Saxe-Coburg-Gotha’s lawyer in the Strasbourg case, as quoted by the Bulgarian legal portal” lex.bg “.
Shortly before the start of the Bulgarian EU Presidency, Simeon II was in contact with the Bulgarian authorities and tried to negotiate with them. At that time, the proposal was for the state to abandon some property or to retain ownership, but to give Saxe-Coburg-Gotha the right to use it. In return, the former prime minister promised to withdraw his complaints from the Strasbourg court. The contract could only be stamped with a special law on royal properties
However, the issue has sparked tensions in the ruling coalition on the eve of the presidency, and the United Patriots nationalists openly opposed the conclusion of an agreement. Prime Minister Boyko Borissov then decided to bury the issue in order to avoid unnecessary headaches. Now, however, it is clear that the headaches are unavoidable.