Bulgarian anti-corruption bill falls at first hurdle

By bne IntelliNews September 4, 2015

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The Bulgarian parliament has rejected at first reading a bill designed to improve the country’s dismal record in fighting corruption.

The bill, which was proposed by the junior ruling coalition partner Reformist Bloc, is part of the new anti-corruption strategy adopted in the spring. It envisaged the creation of a new independent body that will unite three existing structures, which are each considered to be ineffective.

However, the bill received serious criticisms during the parliamentary debates, amid fears that it would be repressive and could be abused. The draft law was supported by 101 lawmakers, but 38 voted against and 72 abstained. The bill was supported only by the ruling party CEDB and the Reformist Bloc. Meanwhile the leftist ABV, which has one cabinet member, and the nationalist Patriotic Front, which usually supports the government, both abstained.

In the opposition, the mainly ethnic Turkish MRF, nationalist Ataka and some of the lawmakers from the Bulgarian Democratic Centre abstained. The votes against came from the biggest opposition party, the BSP, and two MPs from the Bulgarian Democratic Centre.

Leaders of the Reformist Bloc expressed disappointment with the ABV and the Patriotic Front, both of which had supported the bill at earlier stages.

Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said that the bill will be submitted to the parliament again after three months, as soon as the law allows, although one requirement is that the re-submitted bill be substantially revised.

Bulgaria's leftist MPs could also undermine the government's judicial reform efforts by voting shortly against a proposed package of constitutional amendments, Dnevnik daily reported.

The 240-seat parliament may fall short of some two or three votes of the required 180-vote majority to adopt the amendments, calculations suggest.

However, the amendments are likely to be backed by more than 160 MPs, which means they could be proposed again after no less than two months, with a potential re-vote coming after the local elections scheduled for October 25.

On September 2 the amendments were approved by a special parliamentary commission, with 10 votes in favour and two against.

Problems in the judiciary, leading to widespread corruption and weak enforcement of the rule of law, have long been a major hurdle for stronger, more inclusive economic growth in Bulgaria, the poorest EU country. The European Commission (EC) has been pushing for reforms in the judiciary ever since Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007.

In July, support for judiciary reforms was boosted after the so-called historic compromise deal between the Reformist Bloc, which proposed the amendments back in May, and the second largest opposition party, the MRF, which insisted on some changes to the amendments.

The key reform, however, that envisaged dividing Bulgaria’s Supreme Judicial Council into two colleges – of the judges and of the prosecutors – was kept. The EC said that this change will guarantee that the country is ready to implement judiciary reform, and that they will then be irreversible.

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