While Bulgaria joined the European Union (EU) in 2007, paradoxically it is a failed democracy. Tzvetan Vassilev has already filed several applications before the European Court of Human Rights, but meanwhile the abuse in Bulgaria continues. Sadly, EU institutions have been turning a blind eye to Bulgaria’s transformation into a dictatorship for years and seem to have abdicated from their investigative and sanctioning powers.
Here is why Bulgaria is a captured state, which needs US help to fight corruption:
No rule of law and institutional failure:
Reputable international organizations persistently raise concern about the lack of rule of law and institutional failure in Bulgaria.
In 2016, the President of the Venice Commission expressed concern about the Soviet model of Bulgaria’s Prosecution: “The Soviet model of the prosecution must be decisively turned down. It turns it into a source of corruption and blackmail and creates opportunities for its use for political aims.” Indeed, Bulgaria’s Prosecution has a vertical structure which means that all decisions depend entirely on the General Prosecutor. In addition, there is no system of checks and balances.
Bulgaria is among the only two countries in the European Union which are subjected to the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism because of its problems with corruption and lack of rule of law. In its 2016 report, the European Commission states that “…over the past ten years, overall progress has not been as fast as hoped for and a number of significant challenges remain to be addressed.” The 2017 report is not positive either: Bulgaria has not achieved any of the benchmarks set for it since 2007.
Bulgarian citizens are also concerned about their institutions. According to opinion polls, for example, public confidence in Bulgaria’s Parliament is 9%, public confidence in Bulgaria’s Prosecution is 6%, and public confidence in Bulgaria’s Judiciary is 8%. Social activists have been asking for the resignation of Bulgaria’s General Prosecutor Tsatsarov for years.
Systemic abuse of human rights:
Bulgaria traditionally loses its cases before the European Court of Human Rights. For example, in 2015 the European Court of Human Rights issued a special press release entitled “Systemic problem of ineffectiveness of investigations in Bulgaria” (ECHR 070 (2015)) in which it criticized Bulgaria’s Prosecution for abuses of human rights. The court expressed concern that “in over 45 judgments against Bulgaria, [it] found that the authorities had failed to comply with their obligation to carry out an effective investigation and considered that these recurrent shortcomings disclosed the existence of a systemic problem.”
In a pilot judgment of 2015 (Neshkov v Bulgaria), the European Court of Human Rights severely criticized Bulgaria for its poor prison conditions. Note the European Court of Human Rights hands down “pilot judgments” when it has identified a systemic problem as evidenced by applications referring to similar facts.
It should be noted that Bulgaria is the only country in the European Union in which accusations by the Prosecution are not subjected to judicial oversight. Moreover, in August 2017, Bulgaria implemented highly controversial changes in its Code of Criminal Procedure which have been deemed anti-constitutional and violating the European Convention on Human Rights by the Association of Bulgarian Judges, the Association of Bulgarian Lawyers and 19 NGOs. These amendments provide even more excessive powers to Bulgaria’s Prosecution such as the option of keeping an investigation open indefinitely. Bulgaria’s Supreme Court has recently challenged the amendments before Bulgaria’s Constitutional Court.
Reputable international indexes demonstrate that Bulgarians are denied basic freedoms:
- According to “Reporters Without Borders”, Bulgaria is 109th in the world based on freedom of speech. Bulgaria has less freedom of speech than the Ukraine, Kuwait, Nepal, Peru, Mongolia, Georgia, etc. Civil society members worry that one of the nominated perpetrators (Peevski) controls directly and indirectly 80% of Bulgarian media. In their Report entitled “Media: when oligarchs go shopping” – RSF’s latest report, “Reporters Without Borders” emphasize: “…Delyan Peevski has created a shadowy media empire in order to better intimidate and denigrate his detractors. It has been a successful strategy. The Peevskis are kingmakers despite frequent accusations of corruption and conflicts of interest…'” Moreover, the President of Bulgaria’s Supreme Court has compared Peevski to Joseph Goebbels – the Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany.
- According to the International Property Rights Index, Bulgaria is 85th in the world: key reasons for the low score include lack of judicial independence, corruption, limited protection of property rights, lack of rule of law. The same index placed Bulgaria 12th in the Central Eastern Europe and Central Asia category: it is ranked after Turkey which is not an EU Member State.
According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, Bulgaria not only is the most corrupt country in the European Union, but it is even more corrupt than failed states in Asia and in Africa. It is currently 75th in the index. The massive corruption in Bulgaria sheds light on Bulgaria’s failed economy too. Analysts repeatedly emphasize the correlation between corruption and economic development. Academics have emphasized, for instance, that “[an] increase in corruption by one point on a scale from 10 (highly clean) to 0 (highly corrupt) lowers productivity by 4 per cent of GDP and decreases net annual capital inflows by 0.5 per cent of GDP.”
According to Eurostat, Bulgaria has the lowest GDP per capita in the European Union, which makes it the poorest country in the European Union.
Foreign Direct Investment has been dramatically declining since Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007. Here is a graph from the World Bank database, which amply shows that foreign investors have no confidence in the Bulgarian economy:
The reasons for the declining FDI include corruption, high expropriation risk and no rule of law. It is thus not surprising that there are a number of pending cases against Bulgaria before the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes in Washington DC.
According to Eurostat, 45.6% of Bulgarian children are at risk of poverty and social exclusion. The situation in Bulgaria should be contrasted with the situation in Croatia which only joined the European Union in 2013: 26.6% of Croatian children are at risk of poverty according to the same study.