Bulgaria fails to adopt key anti-corruption law

Bulgaria’s Parliament has failed to approve a key piece of legislation to fight high-level corruption in a setback for the government of centre-right prime minister Boiko Borisov.

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The law was drafted by Bulgaria’s former EU Commissioner Meglena Kuneva, who is now Borisov’s deputy in charge of European affairs. (Photo: European Communities, 2008)

Two small parties in Borisov’s four-way coalition opposed the draft law, which would allow anonymous tip-offs to trigger corruption investigations. The current legislation does not allow any such probes. “We’ll submit the draft to the chamber again in three months,” Borisov said after the abortive first-reading vote in parliament on Thursday (September 3). “We’ll talk to our political partners and this bill will pass.”
The law deals with the main weakness of Bulgaria’s justice and home affairs system, which has been under the EU monitoring spotlight for the past eight years because of persistent organised crime and high-level corruption. European Commission annual monitoring reports have accounted for precious little progress in the latter in Bulgaria, in contrast to neighbouring Romania, which has been praised for making progress in stamping out graft.
The law was drafted by Bulgaria’s former EU Commissioner Meglena Kuneva, who is now Borisov’s deputy in charge of European affairs. It envisions the creation of an Anti-Corruption Bureau, a powerful institution similar to an integrity agency with an impressive track record in Romania.
Borisov’s party GERB and Kuneva’s Reformist Bloc backed the law, while the lawmakers of the nationalist Patriotic Front and the leftist ABV party of former president Georgi Parvanov voted against or abstained.
Parvanov, who has split the small ABV from the Socialist, formerly Communist Party, said acceptance of anonymous tip-offs would open the door for abuse and politically motivated score-settling. Reformist bloc lawmakers said a compromise solution would be to accept evidence from protected witnesses instead of anonymous tip-offs. Borisov and the Reformists are short of a simple majority in parliament and depend on a complicated and uneasy alliance with the ABV and the Patriots, who occasionally share Eurosceptic and pro-Russian positions.
Kuneva told state TV on Tuesday (8 September) that the differences with ABV and the Patriots were in the details, not in the main substance of the law. She based the resistance against it on vested interests with strong political connections that it would undermine.
“This is a law [for] about 10,000 people. But they are very important 10,000 people on whom all of us depend. These are people with great power,” she said.
Taking office in 2014, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pledged to end the monitoring for Bulgaria and Romania by the end of his five-year term of office.
To do this the Commission needs the consent of the member states: that is, it needs to present them with compelling evidence of substantial and irreversible progress which the two Balkan countries have made in the domain of justice and home affairs. The next monitoring report is due in January 2016.

EUobserver
8 September 2015