Corruption and Populism in Bulgaria

Article excerpt

IF for most Western Europeans and British people in particular, Bulgaria, a country with a population of over 7,600,000 is seen as an idea) place for holidays or retirement, the situation in the country shows little sign of comfort. Since the summer. Bulgarian cases of corruption have been put under the spot-light in Europe. These have become particularly frequent since Bulgaria became a member of the EU in January, 2007. The first signal came in July when the European Commission published a negative report on the state of the judiciary system in Bulgaria. This was followed by the unprecedented decision to withhold funds devoted to Bulgaria for reasons of mismanagement and suspicion of fraud. In the first report, the European Commission did not go as far as activating the Justice and Home Affairs safeguard clause in the Accession Treaty. This would have led to a situation of non-recognition across the EU of court decisions made in Bulgaria. Nevertheless, the Commission emphasized the numerous dysfunctions of the Bulgarian judicial system such as the failure to prosecute in a number of high profile corruption cases as well as murder cases. In recent years, Bulgaria has indeed been plagued by several targeted contract killings. One of the last ones occurred in April, when a former mafia boss, turned novelist, Georgui Stoev, was assassinated by unmasked killers in front of a busy bus stop in broad daylight after having tried unsuccessfully to convince some judges to take action on the basis of the information he gave them. There is no doubt that such cases create a general feeling of impunity for most of their perpetrators and are seen by the population as additional proof that nothing can be done.

On 24 July 2008. the European Commission announced the suspension of 486 million euros destined for Bulgaria while emphasizing that the money would be released if the country introduced proper financial control over the fund's use. Four months later, on 25 November the EU announced it was definitively depriving Bulgaria of 220m euros. The EU Enlargement Commissioner. Olli Rehn said somewhat diplomatically 'I regret this decision because Bulgaria is an economic success story, it's a very committed and constructive member state, but [...] we have to respect the rules of financial management and therefore there is for the moment no other option".

In Bulgaria, the initial reaction to the July announcement was of apparent dismay. The socialist Prime Minister, Sergey Stanishev - governing a tripartite coalition with the party constituted by Simeon Sakskoburgotski (1) and the DPS (see below) - even attributed the problem to a lack of communication between the European Commission and the Bulgarian authorities. In reality, the Commission's decision did not come as a surprise at all. After Bulgaria joined the EU, the Commission kept monitoring the absorption of EU funds in its subsequent reports. In Bulgaria, the Prime Minister had anticipated the report by appointing Mrs Meglena Plougtchieva, a well-respected former Ambassador to Germany, as Vice-Prime Minister in charge of controlling the use of EU funds.

Stories of mismanagement, fraud and corruption are indeed all too common in Bulgaria. The local mafia that prospers on drugs, human trafficking and other illegal activities seems to be untouchable even if, from time to time, well-staged police operations meant essentially for external consumption are launched by the authorities - most of the time without tangible results. A new development in the relationship between politics and the mafia occurred in the context of the last local elections when local mafia leaders engineered the creation of political movements aimed at presenting candidates. Last April, the Ministry of the Interior was alleged to have sent advanced warnings to some mafia bosses of police raids. After weeks of such allegations, the Minister, Rumen Petkov, finally resigned while remaining an MP. …