The European Commission’s rule of law monitoring mechanism does not reflect the deep-rooted and systemic problems in this area in Bulgaria and is therefore “highly ineffective in protecting the rights of Bulgarian citizens”, says a report presented at a conference in Sofia by left-wing MEP Clare Daly, who personally supported last year’s protests in Bulgaria.
The Barricade, 05.11.2021
The conference “Rule of Law: what should Bulgarians expect from the EU and what should the EU expect from Bulgaria?”, held on 5 November 2021 at the National Palace of Culture in Sofia at the initiative of Irish left-wing MEP Clare Daly, concluded that the European Commission is complicit in law-breaking in the EU because it neither reports effectively through its monitoring mechanism nor stops EU funding for governments committing such violations. And in our country in particular, the EC’s rule of law monitoring mechanism “does not reflect systemic and entrenched problems” in this area and is therefore “surprisingly ineffective in protecting the rights of Bulgarian citizens,” according to a report presented at the conference.
Clare Daly, who became popular in Bulgaria when she personally came to Sofia to support last year’s protests against the GERB government, has now also personally addressed Bulgarian society in her opening speech, stressing that solving the problems in our country is primarily in our hands. “The real power that can fight against the oligarchic mafia in the country – this is the power of society. I believe that you are the ones who will give a new direction to this project. We hope, we have high hopes that this will happen. We are now part of the example of how to build a better future for Bulgarian citizens”, stressed Clare Daly.
She also pointed out that Bulgaria’s situation is not an exception and that “for years there have been systemic problems with the rule of law, there have been violations of European rights across the EU”. The MEP stressed, “The European Commission has not only failed to act, but has been complicit in these violations, with EU funding. We believe that the Commission has failed to address these challenges and these systematic violations of the rule of law and has failed to protect human rights.”
The co-organiser of the conference from the Bulgarian side – Minister of Culture, Prof. Velislav Minekov, said, “My short opinion is that it is very difficult to talk about the rule of law in our country. We continue to be that forgotten Balkan country which, despite being a member of the European Union, remains in the solitude of its misery.”
Prof. Minekov thanked Clare Daly for organising this event. In his opinion, the it raises a subject that almost nobody in our country would dare to talk about. “Indeed, what we will talk about today is tempting, especially among the participants. It will be tempting to our senses. But let us have the courage and dignity to tell and show the facts as they are,” the Minister urged.
He noted that the issue of the rule of law in our country is linked to many other areas, so it is necessary to discuss the state of the press in Bulgaria, which has not changed in the last six months. “We live in an environment where the media space has been suppressed, has been bought, resold and is mainly in the hands of oligarchic circles,” the culture minister said. He regretted that today it is very difficult to point to a medium that can be defined as free. “There are some who allow themselves a little more courage, but nevertheless the damage is visible every day, especially in this series of elections the manipulation is visible,” Velislav Minekov was adamant. He thanked all those who had the courage to participate in this conference, whose subject is sensitive and requires courage to tackle.
Velislav Minekov gave special thanks to the associate professor Albena Azmanova, Professor of Political Science at the Brussels School of International Relations at the University of Kent, winner of several awards for academic excellence, and Bethany Howard, researcher at the European Parliament. They are the authors of the report presented at the forum – the study on the rule of law in Bulgaria. “What we read is impressive – these are fact that we cannot escape,” Minekov said of the report.
Associate Professor Azmanova presented the study examining the European Commission’s assessment of the rule of law in Bulgaria. It was commissioned by Clare Daly. The paper points out that the European Commission’s rule of law monitoring mechanism does not reflect the systemic and entrenched problems of the rule of law in Bulgaria and is therefore highly ineffective in protecting the rights of Bulgarian citizens under Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. It calls on the European Commission to strengthen the rule of law monitoring mechanism in Bulgaria to ensure effective protection of the rights of Bulgarian citizens under European law.
Albena Azmanova stressed that the specific objectives of the report are twofold: to reveal the seriousness of the systematic failure to respect the rule of law in Bulgaria, how this threatens the fundamental rights of citizens, and to draw attention to the ineffectiveness of the new EC rule of law monitoring mechanism in identifying these problems and taking appropriate action.
According to Azmanova, the notion of the rule of law should easily unite political forces, but in fact the opposite is happening in Bulgaria. Throughout our modern history, with a few exceptions, such as the current government, the common denominator in our country is something else – the plundering of the state and the suppression of citizens’ rights.
And the relationship between the state and the people in Bulgaria, according to Azmanova, can be correlated with Voltaire’s definition of the types of people in the world – deceitful and deceived. The hope that with EU membership Europe would protect us from our political class has not materialised in practice, and the link between the mafia and the state has not been broken, Azmanova stressed. She added that it was precisely in connection with the trend towards authoritarianism over the last ten years that the European Commission had assumed the task of monitoring the rule of law more closely on the Old Continent.
The mechanisms for this are constant monitoring and the issuing of annual reports, and so far two such reports have been published – for 2020 and 2021. Dr Azmanova described this idea as wonderful, but poorly implemented, especially when put alongside the study prepared by her and Bethany Howard comparing the state of the rule of law in France, Spain and Bulgaria.
The European Commission was found to be well informed, but either overlooked or presented the shortcomings in a light almost favourable to the ruling elites, said Azmanova. This is not bureaucratic negligence, but a refusal to sanction the problems of this force that is supposed to monitor the health of the rule of law, the study’s co-author stressed. She pointed out that the EC is thus becoming complicit in rule of law violations.
And in Bulgaria, the case is particularly tragic because it involves complicity in the capture of the country by oligarchic interests, the study added. “There are no major revelations in the report. These are facts that are common knowledge,” added the assoc. Azmanova. “At the same time, the lack of sufficient resources is the main criticism of our country when it comes to the reports that have been prepared about us. The aim of our study is to raise the issue of political responsibility of both the Bulgarian authorities and the European Commission,” she summed up.
The first panel of the conference was also attended by political scientist Slavi Vassilev and Prof. Dr. Evgheni Dainov – lecturer at the New Bulgarian University, and the second panel was attended by Docent Hristo Hristev – lawyer, PhD in EU public law at the University of Nancy, France, Docent Ivo Indjov, lecturer at the University of Veliko Tarnovo, lawyer. Alexander Kashmov, legal expert at the NGO “Access to Information Programme”, Adv. Emil Georgiev from the initiative “Justice for All” and Adv. Julian Datsev.
The whole report was launched on 8 November 2021 in Bruxelles and can be read here:
Read in Romanian language!
Read in Bulgarian language!
Photo: Clare Daly in Sofia (source: Ministry of Culture, Bulgaria)