Bulgaria – The Fast-Slow EU Member

Posted on 02. May 2012

by Georgi Michev

Georgi Michev NEWThe Republic of Bulgaria officially joined the European Union on January 1, 2007. Following its accession, the public sphere within the states that had already acceded to the EU grew noisy with debate on the hazards of crime, corruption, and illegal workers in the labor market. In my capacity as a young political scientist, I shall address these issues using available evidence, and also analyze them.

The reality in the country:

More than 20 years after Bulgaria’s transition, following the fall of socialism, the country’s government is composed of one political party: Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (Known in Bulgarian as GERB), which was founded on December 3rd, 2006. In the 2007 midterm elections for the European Parliament (EP), GERB managed to win 5 of Bulgaria’s 18 seats, in addition to key positions in local elections that same year. GERB consolidated their representation of Bulgaria in the EP in the elections in 2009. That year, the party won the confidence of 39.72% of the voters (winning 117 of 240 seats in the Bulgarian Parliament) and formed a government with the support of the Blue Coalition (made up of the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) and Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB)), the Attack Party, and the Order, Legality and Justice Party (OLJ). However, none of the supporting parties within this coalition were awarded ministries within the government. In 2011, GERB won the second round of Bulgaria’s presidential elections with 52.58%, and consolidated its gains in local elections.

In recent years, the GERB-controlled Ministry of the Interior has executed numerous operations and police raids, and foiled the plans of some major criminal interests. However, clashes between the Ministry and the courts, in addition to a lack of convictions against high-profile mafia bosses, have resulted in the reality that our country remains the EU’s only member with a humiliatingly ineffective mechanism for the monitoring of justice and internal affairs. Bulgaria has taken a big step backwards, according to some analysts, because for the first time since Boyko Borisov’s government came to power, the European Commission noted in a report that there is no noticeable “political will” to fight organized crime and corruption at a high level.

I believe that this judgment is premature and we will soon start to see positive results. The creation, in 2010, of a specialized court to combat organized crime supports this assertion. In addition, the EU’s General Affairs Council adopted, on February 28th, 2012, the conclusions of the European Commission progress reports regarding Bulgaria and Romania’s compliance with the Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification. The Council expressed satisfaction with the changes in the Commission’s reports on Bulgaria regarding the creation of new judicial bodies such as this specialized court, as well as the prosecution of cases involving organized crime. The Commission noted, however, that to achieve effective results on its remaining recommendations, Bulgaria should take comprehensive action to reform its judicial system. The Commission laid out concrete expectations for cases involving organized crime and corruption in high places, effective legislation, asset forfeiture, and support for the newly created institutions.1

During his official visit to Bulgaria in October 2011, EC President Jose Manuel Barroso said, “Bulgaria has undertaken a number of consolidations as a response to the crisis. I want to congratulate Prime Minister Boyko Borisov; your country has become a very good example of economic discipline.” In response to the economic crisis, Bulgaria’s government has committed to increasing the rate of absorption of EU funds. According to Borisov, “We went from 0.84% absorption of EU funds. Our ambition in the coming years is to benefit from the solidarity of Europe for the largest infrastructure projects.” Through Europe’s Cohesion Policy, poorer and less advanced EU countries such as Bulgaria now have the opportunity to improve their infrastructure to match the standard set by other countries, added Mr. Borisov.

On February 27th, 2012, during a meeting with Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Bulgaria’s Minister of the Interior, Jonathan Allen, the new British ambassador to Bulgaria, said that, “Bulgaria is an important partner in the fight against organized criminals.” Over the last two years, contacts between the two countries, both political and operational, have intensified. Minister Tsvetanov stressed British support for actions carried out by Bulgaria in the fight against corruption and organized crime. For his part, Ambassador Allen added, “I know that both sides work very well together and that the scope of our cooperation is great.”2

According to the United States’ Ambassador to Bulgaria, James Warlick, Bulgaria has become a regional, as well as a European, leader in the fight against computer crime.3 Countering this kind of crime has become a national priority.

Bulgaria’s Minister of the Interior also took part in the 15th European Police Congress in Berlin,4 where he joined the discussion on the developing process of Bulgaria’s accession to the Schengen Agreement. According to the panel’s moderator, Dr. Hans-Peter Uhl-a member of the Germany’s Bundestag, as well as the chairman of the working group on internal security to Germany’s governing coalition-the Bulgarian minister “is a reliable partner in the fight against corruption and organized crime. This is a minister whom we trust.” Dr. Uhl gave high praise to the technical training and competence of the security contingent at Bulgaria’s border with Turkey. He became convinced of Bulgaria’s commitment to border security during his visit to our country. “With regard to the security of the border and the installed equipment there – it is exemplary. There is no one in the European Commission who has spoken about that with criticism. The staff on this border have been trained and these people are highly motivated. We have complete confidence that the EU’s external borders, guarded by Bulgaria and Romania, will be safe.”

The complex state of migration across the EU’s external borders, is stable and calm where Bulgaria is concerned. There was even a reported decrease of 2% in illegal migration attempts from 2010 to 2011. “According to Frontex’s risk analysis, the main migration route from the Middle East to Central and Western Europe goes around Bulgaria, which demonstrates, once again, that we are a factor of stability in Southeastern Europe,” said Minister Tsvetanov. This is the result of consistent targeted actions to manage the migration process and to ensure effective border control and cooperation at the regional and European levels. Minister Tsvetanov has also affected real results in the area where organized crime, contract killings, and kidnappings intersect in the country. “We see a will for real just solutions to emerge from the Bulgarian courts, so that criminals who derogate the prestige of the country and threaten the lives and security of many citizens within the EU can be prosecuted,” the minister said. “I want to assure you that everything we do is to ensure the safety of both our country and the region, and that means Europe. Bulgaria is now a place of security,” he added.

As an optimist, I believe that Bulgaria is becoming more secure and stable economically and politically, year after year.

Footnotes

1. Official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria. Conclusions in the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism progress report show Bulgaria’s sustained political will.
2. Official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria. The new British Ambassador in Sofia had his first meeting with the Bulgarian interior minister.
3. Official website of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Bulgaria. “Initial investigating actions related to computer systems and detecting of computer crimes” is the subject of the international seminar currently being held in Sofia.
4. Official website of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Bulgaria. Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov will participate in the 15th European Police Congress in Berlin and in the Third Ministerial Conference of the Paris Pact Partners on Combating the Afghan Illicit Opiate Trade.