Why They EU Cannot Improve Bulgaria’s Judicial System?

The cooperation and verification mechanism designed to improve the judiciary has failed to generate meaningful reform in Romania and Bulgaria, Professor Georgi Dimitrov, member of Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence at Sofia University, says in an opinion piece for the latest issue of Kapital Quarterly, the English-language edition of Capital newspaper.

BULGARIA Twelve years after the European Commission launched the Cooperation and Verification Mecha nism (CVM) to help Romania and Bulgaria reform their judiciary and overcome corruption, tangible results are still lacking. The monitoring mechanism was introduced in 2007 to prevent new member states contaminating the European Union with their failings. Annual reports about institutional deficiencies were meant to stir reform. And underlying it all was the belief that rule of law problems could be resolved in three or four years.

In Bulgaria, however, the judicial system is functioning no better than in 2006, and the fight against corruption is little more than a charade, ignored even by its intended audience in Brussels. Nonetheless, the latest CVM report issued in November flattered Sofia for being on the right track, by stark contrast with Bucharest, and indicated the European Commission might end its scrutiny by the end of 2019. So why has the Commission decided this when it’s self-evident that the situation in Bulgaria is far from rosy? Several factors contribute to the inefficiency of the CVM. First is the fundamental misconception that criticism and calls for reforms – the main instruments of the EU’s executive body – will carry the same weight as during the pre-accession period. The second is the very limited scope of action of the EU in dealing with the rule of law. Member states resist Brussels’ attempts to broaden its clout because they fear undermining their own national leverages of power.

Third is the institutional rigidity of the EU (which is a union of states, after all) in interacting with local governments, who are supposed to be authentic custodians of public interest. But when these same governments generate corruption, the EU finds itself helpless. THE BIRTHMARK From the outset, the EU found the task of accepting the 10 former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe to be extremely taxing. It wasn’t just the number of candidates and their cultural and historical heritage. More telling was the chasm between their economic, institutional, and civic characteristics, and those of the West. In order to actually enlarge EU in foreseeable future, all efforts were focused on surveillance and monitoring given over to core issues only.

Hence these countries’ pre-accession preparations focused solely on their transition to a market economy. Even more importantly, preparation during these crucial stages was reduced to incorporating hundreds of thousands of pages of EU law into the legislation of future member countries. During the run-up to membership it became clear that the EU was confronting a totally different type of culture and civic society. Nothing short of a total transformation of all layers and facets of public life was required. Naturally, the desire for change encountered widespread resistance. The EU has no mechanisms to compel reform, precisely because its own institutional values and legislative logic require it to function as a voluntary union of partners who clearly understand the mutual benefits of membership. This is how the inherent contradiction of the eastward expansion of the EU was reformatted – it must force systemic reform, but it has no means to. During membership negotiations, however, the Commission surprisingly acquired a powerful tool for influencing member states. Uncertainty over eligibility for accession impelled countries to satisfy recommendations in the Commission’s annual reports, which assessed each candidate’s progress as compared to the evaluations and suggestions from the previous years. Vetting by the Commission seemed to magically incentivize candidates to run for fulfillment of membership requirements. Still, the Commission’s stipulations were never laid out clearly and unequivocally. It left the door open for decisions motivated by paramount geopolitical concerns rather than centered on the specific achievements of a given country. As the ever-expanding set of reforms met further local resistance, the Commission was forced to downplay the accession requirements. Not only were reforms reduced to the transposition of EU law into national legislation (to a significant extent irrelevant in terms of practical application), but achievements lost their importance as well. Progress among candidate countries was gauged not by advances in the here and now, but instead on promised prospective achievements.

Hence this depended heavily on national governments’ political will. This was the inevitable price for successfully integrating Eastern bloc countries into the EU. The decision for eastward expansion, taken in 1997, became fact in 2004. Even though it shouldn’t have been a hassle surprise, the old EU members and the Commission were astonished that newcomers’ zest for reform had greatly reduced by 2002 and had practically vanished by 2004. For example, when Poland was admitted, it promised to complete 260 assignments after joining the Union, all of which ground to a halt.

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