WAITING FOR THE REPORT, PRAYING FOR LENIENCY
Absurd as it might sound, the tripartite coalition's Government in our country stands all chances to turn out the big winner in the Ovcharov-Alexandrov corruption scam, raging for a second month now. At that, not because Premier Sergey Stanishev and his Cabinet (with two ministers less now) are more innocent than saints, but due to the expected successive compromise monitoring report of the European Commission (EC). The document is to be
officially published on June 27
but there are already indications that the issue of the so-called small safeguard clauses won't figure in it. More specifically, it will be there but only as a future hypothesis.
Initially, some influential western publications circulated information by well informed sources that the report in June would be rather an intermediate one and no important sanctions for Bulgaria will result from it. The most realistic scenario for the time being is that in the end of this month the EU commissioners just make a review of the so-far fulfilment of the six concrete criteria for combating corruption and criminality, set to Bulgaria prior its EU accession. The Government in Sofia is also expected to be given a grace till end-September when it is to deposit its successive report in Brussels. And in end-2007 Brussels will prepare one more monitoring report on the fulfilment of our country's commitments. That perhaps gave good reasons to Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin to recall that the monitoring of Bulgaria will continue until 2010 and the safeguard clause could be imposed at any moment within that period. EU Affairs Minister Gergana Grancharova voices similar optimism. Ms. Meglena Kouneva's successor told a reporter of the BANKER weekly that the publication of the report after the summit in Berlin is definitely to our advantage.
Doubts that nothing sensational will happen on June 27 are also set at rest by the fact that for the first time the EC report will be published not before but after the regular summit within the EU framework. As it is known, the session of the European Council in Berlin has been scheduled for June 21-22 (i.e. almost a week before the publication of Brussels' analysis). And our EU-accession agreement from Luxembourg reads that the EU commissioners may only recommend the enforcement of a safeguard clause in the sphere of justice, but
the last say on imposing it
belongs to the EU-members. It's only logical to suppose that if the commissioners seriously intend to sanction us, they'll simply speed up the report's publishing before the forum in Germany's capital.
A final decision regarding an eventual financial sanction to Bulgaria due to the lack of readiness for absorbing the money from the EU Structural Funds, and more specifically those for agriculture, could hardly be expected either. Such a possibility was hinted at in the last monitoring report before Bulgaria's admission to the EU. Until now, however, the EC has not yet voiced its stance on the recently sent Bulgarian draft projects of the National Strategic Framework and the operational programmes attached to it. Accreditation of our programme on the development of rural regions will be waited for as well.
For the time being EU commissioners and their speakers refuse to comment on the contents of the June 27 report. Surprisingly, the only one who took the liberty to mention the word safeguard clause was the well known Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini. The Italian gave a series of interviews in which he did not rule out the possibility of imposing certain sanctions to Sofia and Bucarest. However, right after he made these statements comments appeared in the western press that this was rather a desperate attempt by Frattini to clear his name in
the scandal that exploded
after his ski holiday in Bulgaria in February. At that time the commissioner happened to be in the Borovets resort in the company of Roumen Ovcharov, Minister of Economy and Energy, who was forced to hand in his resignation.
In this case it would not come as a surprise if we witness reports that we've seen before the EU accession - in which the EU bureaucrats described the country's progress but actually said how much work was still to be done. Still, the matrix will not fit the next report entirely. And this is logical, since two ministers handed in their resignations, an almost extraordinary condition seems pending as the Premier promised to establish a National Security Agency, and the Supreme Cassation Prosecutors Office is cluttered with corruption warnings.
A more significant question that the one about whether we would evade the precautionary clauses (now or in the report due to be released around Christmas) is to what extent the current large-scale crying of stinking fish through all levels of the state ruling will result in judgements. Considering the almost panic reactions of the so called responsible factors in the last month - this is hardly possible. Whatever leadership skills Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev is demonstrating today, he will have difficulty escaping from his role of a speaker of the Coalition Council and a hostage of his partners in the cabinet. No matter how powdered reports the Ministry of Interior prepares, the EU will inevitably understand that while there is mafia in other countries, in Bulgaria the mafia still has a country. Nor can we ignore the unpleasant trend showing that the Chief Prosecutor, Boris Velchev, who started his mandate with enormous credit of confidence from both the nation and the community is now acting more like a media star than a threat to the criminals. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that just three weeks before the Brussels report is published the country has
fulfilled just one
of the six conditions set. It refers to the amendments to the Constitution which the Parliament adopted at the beginning of the year. They had to guarantee that the principle of separation of the powers will be observed. However, the amendments alone mean nothing if a new Judicial Power Act and a Civil Procedure Code are adopted. The two drafts are now subject to second reading by the legal committee at the National Assembly, but it is difficult to predict whether or not they will pass through the plenary hall by the time the report is prepared.
As to the analysis which the country is required to make of the effect of the application of the new Criminal Procedure Code (published by the Official Gazette in late 2005) in the part concerning the preliminary proceedings, it became clear long ago that the police preliminary investigation fell short of the expectations. Instead of making efficient investigations, the investigation service became a tool for political compromises. In turn, the few prosecutors' immunities withdrawn by the Supreme Judicial Council will hardly overturn the public idea of the amounts of illegal payments made among high magistrates.
The results from the allegedly
against the corruption in different state departments remain a mystery, too. According to governmental reports, 1,706 preliminary proceedings for corruption crimes have been completed in the past six months. For the same period, 599 prosecutors' acts against 705 people have been brought to court. As a result, 297 people have been sentenced and their sentences have become valid. Unfortunately, the bombastic statistics is unable to hide the fact that there is no indictment even against the most famous defendant in the republic, Valyo Toploto. The same happened with the scandalous affairs involving the draining of the State Reserve, the import swindles and the financial abuses in state-owned enterprises such as Bulgartabac, Bulgargeomin, etc. The special Commission for Fighting Corruption with the Council of Ministers can hardly boast of concrete achievements, too. Thanks to assistance from the governmental inspectorate, it has inspected 82 warnings and made 988 revisions of which 541 planned. However, their effect remains dubious. Just for comparison - the Romanian department for fighting corruption which also includes prosecutors announced recently that they had completed the investigation against ex-premier Adrian Nastase and he would become defendant soon. This probably allowed Romania's judicial minister, Tudor Chiuariu, to firmly reject the possibility for a precautionary clause in the judicial field this week. While Romania has some real grounds to claim so, the only thing Bulgaria can do is prey for leniency.