While the unstable political situation in our country determines the incompleteness and completion (or serious revision – to be seen) of the Bulgarian Recovery and Sustainability Plan, the European Commission (EC) has already approved the national plans of 12 countries. Slow and dependent justice can be a major brake on investment security, the competitiveness of the economy and the growth and prosperity of the business environment as a whole. Therefore, below we present in general what place justice occupies in the approved plans and how the proposal, at least so far, by Bulgaria in this area is compared with them.
Countries whose recovery plans have already been approved may be conditionally divided into several groups with regard to the proposed justice:
The excellent ones
Several Member States have not included justice in their plans: Denmark, Germany, Austria, Luxembourg (with the exception of one sentence that successful digitalisation in the judiciary continues as there is room for development) and France. In fact, they are all at the forefront of the rule of law, and especially the independence and efficiency of the judiciary. In the World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index, for example, out of a total of 128 countries, Denmark is first in the world, Germany sixth, Austria eighth, and so on.
The same trend is observed in the EC’s findings in the rule of law reports: for the justice system of each of these countries, similar findings are consistently noted: “consistently high level of sense of independence”, “one of the least corrupt countries in the EU and world “(Denmark),” the sense of independence of the judiciary is at a high level “(Germany),” the degree of sense of independence of the judiciary is constantly very high “(Austria),” the Luxembourg justice system is highly perceived for the independence of the judiciary “. It can be said that France is somewhat of an exception, as businesses have a high sense of justice, while justice is independent, while society is moderate, but reforms have already been undertaken.
The complete lack of attention to this area by these countries is quite logical – they have already created the necessary infrastructure, procedures and integrity of their justice systems so as to enjoy a high level of public trust and efficiency. And hence investment and business that can rely on predictable and impartial justice. Although their plans have not yet been approved / submitted, it is likely that the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland will soon join this group (and if there are planned investments in the field of justice, they will be mostly for digitalization).
The second conditional group includes Member States whose main shortcomings in the functioning of the justice system are its efficiency – mainly manifested in the length of the trial – and use the plan as an opportunity to tackle the problem. These are Belgium, Spain, Portugal and Italy. Although in the Rule of Law Index they are behind the “excellent”, their ranking in the global ranking is good: Belgium is 14th, Spain – 19th, Portugal – 23rd and Italy – 27th.
EC reports also reveal that these are justice systems that are making efforts for their development, although they face challenges: “a long-standing shortcoming is the lack of reliable and consistent data on the efficiency of the system”, although “reforms are underway in link to digitization and resource management … “(Belgium); “The Spanish justice system faces challenges related to its efficiency, with legal proceedings becoming increasingly lengthy”; “Portugal’s justice system continues to face challenges in terms of its efficiency, in particular in administrative and tax courts”; In Italy, “in terms of efficiency, the justice system continues to face serious challenges”
All four countries rely mainly on digitalizationas a key tool for overcoming the problems of overcrowding and lengthy litigation. While Belgium is expected to rely solely on this, Portugal is also planning alternative dispute resolution in administrative and tax courts, specialized courts and improving the legal framework for insolvency, and Spain is planning changes to some laws and codes and restructuring the court map. . Italy also provides for alternative dispute resolution in civil proceedings, specialization in insolvency and organizational measures. Thus, this group of countries (which is likely to include others) will use European funding to support efforts to address a specific challenge.
Catching up with reforms
The next group resembles the second in terms of the need for changes, but, judging by the approved plans, differs in that it plans more serious reforms, including various components and activities, as well as investment projects. It currently includes Slovakia, Latvia and Greece. The former are not the subject of a study by the aforementioned Index, and Greece is only in 40th place.
According to EC reports on the rule of law, the level of sense of independence of the judiciary is average for Greece, while in Slovakia it is “very low”, and from 2019 “is exacerbated by serious concerns about the overall integrity (integrity) of the judiciary and the prosecution “, and due to the presence of a number of cases of corruption at the highest levels of government. Greece has seen “conflicting results” from ongoing reforms, with “the justice system continuing to face challenges in terms of its quality and efficiency”.
Latvia can be added to the same group, although the country is consistent and active in its reform efforts, and its justice system is among the most advanced in the EU in terms of the use of information and communication technologies. There, the sense of independence of the judiciary is also average, there is a shortage of human resources in their judiciary and they are still looking for appropriate methods to increase efficiency in dealing with financial crime cases. Although Latvia is one step ahead of the other Member States in the group, it seems that the need to continue and, above all, consolidate the reform efforts is leading to reforms and investments similar to the other two countries.
For example, it envisages investments for the construction of an academy for training magistrates, an innovative hub for more effective identification of money laundering, a public register for public procurement, and the purchase of technical equipment for customs. Reforms include legislative changes aimed at modernizing the investigation and prosecution of economic crimes and especially money laundering; training of magistrates, capacity building of NGOs, training of over 16,000 officials on ethics, integrity, anti-corruption and even more in leadership, management, etc.
Slovakia’s approved plan is a good example of openly and clearly defining the problems the country faces in the judiciary, namely its independence, integrity and efficiency, as well as the fight against corruption. To deal with this, the state plans the following reforms: 1. reorganization of the judicial card, which would include specialization of judges and 2. fight against corruption and strengthening the independence of the judiciary – legislative changes, reform of the judiciary, new powers of the Supreme Court. their administrative court with regard to the disciplinary liability of magistrates, notaries, etc., reform of the constitutional court.
In connection with this, investments are also planned: buildings that meet the needs according to the reformed court map (repair of old ones, construction / rental of new ones) and digitalization and strengthening of the analytical capacity of magistrates and administration. Greece provides in practice the same: investment in new buildings and renovation of old, e-justice, as well as training of magistrates and court administration, incl. digital skills, faster justice, court card restructuring.
Although facing serious problems, these countries are openly seeking solutions to them through reforms on country-relevant issues and investment in infrastructure, human capital and digitalisation.
Where is Bulgaria
If Bulgaria submits its plan as it seems at the moment (last option April 2021), it will form a completely new group – the deluded (or deluded). We are slipping along the line of digitalization and trying to disguise ourselves as developing member states, and we have not even been able to clearly define the problems, no matter that some of them are deeply rooted for years and widely discussed – there are no issues such as the reorganization of the court map. , the independence of the court and the accountability of the prosecution, etc. Hence, the proposed measures cannot be adequate.
If the plan is not revised to fit reality, it will be a simple investment draw without justice reform.