18 August 2022

Extradition to Russia from an EU Member State

On 8 August 2022, a Bulgarian Regional Court, acting as a first instance, allowed the extradition of Alexey Alchin, a Russian national, to Russia upon the request of the Russian Prosecutor’s Office. This controversial decision sparked much debate among Bulgarian civil society because Alchin became known for burning his Russian passport at a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and for maintaining anti-war stances. In the eyes of Bulgarian civil society, the request for his extradition is politically motivated. Continue reading >>
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29 April 2022

Bulgaria’s Failed Specialized Criminal Justice Experiment

On 14 April 2022 Bulgaria’s Parliament adopted legislative amendments, which finally put an end to the Specialized Criminal Court and its mirroring Specialized Prosecutor’s Office. Both institutions were set up during Boyko Borissov’s first term as Prime Minister in 2011 and severely undermined the rule of law in Bulgaria. The creation and development of these structures was encouraged and marked as progress by the European Commission, which calls into question the Commission’s ability to objectively monitor the rule of law in its Member States, to recognize threats, and to give adequate recommendations. Continue reading >>
18 März 2022

Impunity

On 10 March 2022, Bulgaria’s Supreme Judicial Council decided unanimously to postpone examining two requests for the dismissal of General Prosecutor Ivan Geshev from office. This decision is not merely a procedural trick with questionable legality. It provides further proof that the Supreme Judicial Council has unhealthy dependencies and is one of the main reasons why a General Prosecutor of Bulgaria can abuse his office and commit crimes with impunity. Continue reading >>
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05 November 2021

Value Judgments

On 26 October 2021, the Bulgarian Constitutional Court issued a binding interpretative decision on the definition of the concept of “sex”. The Court held that “sex” can only have a binary biological meaning. Instead of engaging in a legal debate in relation to the discussed matter, the Constitutional Court chose to interpret the law through “values established in the society” that are derived from “other normative systems, such as religion, morality and custom”. The result is a judgment which not only neglects the rights and freedoms of transgender people, but also relies on a reasoning that could undermine women’s rights. Continue reading >>
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04 November 2021

Yellow Light for Disciplining Inconvenient Judges?

The case of the disciplinary proceedings against the Bulgarian judge Miroslava Todorova (Requête no 40072/13) which has recently been examined by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) caught the eye of those following the rule of law decay in the European Union. On the surface, it appears that the recent ECtHR judgment on Todorova’s case is a mere example of the ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’ legal maxim – after all, the application was submitted in 2013 and the Court ruled against Bulgaria only in 2021. However, a closer look reveals that the ECtHR found in favor of Bulgaria on the two most worrisome questions. Continue reading >>
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09 Juni 2021

Framing and Raiding

In early June 2021, Bulgaria’s Prosecutor’s Office raided the Ministry of Interior and raised charges against a senior employee. According to the Minister of Interior Boyko Rashkov, the goal of the Prosecutor’s Office is to sabotage an inquiry into illegal wiretapping. A similar raid against the Bulgarian Presidency in July 2020 sparked mass protests. Bulgaria’s Prosecutor’s Office has an unrestrained authority that is used as a weapon against the opponents of the status quo. Continue reading >>
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27 Mai 2021

The Admissibility Hurdle

The entry into force of a new Protocol in August 2021 indicates that the ECtHR will implement even more stringent admissibility criteria which provides the institution with more tools to reject legitimate applications and to hide the political motivation behind such decisions. The European Court of Human Rights has long faced burning criticism for declaring applications inadmissible when faced with prima facie flagrant human rights abuses by autocratic regimes, such as Turkey, putting in question the credibility of the Court which is expected to be a center of legal excellence. Continue reading >>
12 Mai 2021

Short but Sweet

On 11 May 2021, Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev issued a decree appointing a caretaker government, which means that the dissolution of the 45th National Assembly is imminent. This National Assembly, which was first convened on 15 April 2021, was rather short-lived, but it paved the way to fairer elections and much needed reforms in the justice system which civil society demands. Continue reading >>
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05 März 2021

COVID-19 in Autocratic Bulgaria

In a prior article, I explained how the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov was using the COVID-19 emergency in spring 2020 as an opportunity to implement measures curtailing fundamental rights and solidifying his autocracy. Subsequently, Borissov’s GERB party enacted questionable amendments to the Law on Health permitting the executive to usurp powers traditionally conferred onto Parliament in Bulgaria’s constitutional order. Continue reading >>
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07 Dezember 2020

Borissov’s Latest Plan to Avoid True Reforms

Borissov’s government is attempting to use the 2020 country report by the European Commission to deliver yet another blow to Bulgaria’s rule of law by putting forward an action plan which allegedly addresses the Commission’s concerns. Moreover, a shocking proposal that became public on 3 December 2020 revealed plans for a reform that would essentially allow the General Prosecutor to choose who will investigate him. Continue reading >>
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12 September 2020

On Coins, Parallel Universes and the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism

The European Commission seems to inhabit a universe which is too distant from the realities of Bulgaria and Romania, which are the only EU members subjected to the CVM. Even worse, it is currently attempting to sweep the CVM under the carpet of oblivion for no good reason, as seen in Commissioner Vera Jourova’s presentation on the mechanism before the LIBE Committee at the European Parliament on 10 September 2020. The Commission is attempting to persuade concerned citizens and Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) that it would continue the monitoring of these countries under the new Rule of Law Mechanism. It insists that this be an argument to terminate the CVM, but is this justified? Continue reading >>
19 August 2020

A Grand National Assembly or Grand Bulgarian Chicanery?

Autocrats have a bag of tricks to control and appease the masses. Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov plans to pull a long-forgotten constitutional trick out of his bag — the grand national assembly. Continue reading >>
12 Juli 2020

The General Prosecutor Unbound

It is no secret that the rule of law in Bulgaria has been fragile for a long time, like in many other post-socialist states. Still, what has been going on in the last days in Bulgaria is extraordinary in a number of ways. It could be seen as an attack against the very constitutional foundations of the state. In this brief post, I will just focus on the last development concerning the disregard of the constitutional principle of the rule of law by one of the highest authorities in the state, namely the General Prosecutor. Continue reading >>
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12 Februar 2020

Kolevi: Bulgaria’s 10-Year Cat-and-Mouse Game with the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission

A cat-and-mouse game perfectly describes Bulgaria’s stubborn refusal to comply with Kolevi v Bulgaria, which requires a reform of Bulgaria’s Prosecutor’s Office, and it has been going on for a decade. The latest trick pulled out of the bag is quite original – Bulgaria’s government essentially asked Bulgaria’s Constitutional Court to clarify if some of the concerns raised by the Venice Commission were reasonable, and this court deemed the question admissible. Continue reading >>
27 November 2019

Carte Blanche for Political Abuse

Bulgaria has established one of the most aggressive confiscation regimes in Europe, allowing seizure of assets without a criminal conviction and putting the burden of proof in the procedure on the owner. Bulgarian law, as it stands, has no specific safeguards to prevent misuse, and has been criticized by the European Court of Human Rights in cases like Dimitrovi v Bulgaria. Furthermore, questions have been raised as government opponents and critics seem to be prime targets of these confiscation measures. In a preliminary reference to the Court of Justice of the European Union from Sofia’s City Court on that issue, Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston has recently delivered her opinion which leaves the door wide open for political abuse by Bulgarian authorities. Continue reading >>
24 Oktober 2019

So Why Don’t We Just Call the Whole Rule of Law Thing Off, Then?

Civil society is aware of the dual standards vis-à-vis the rule of law, which emerge when one compares the Commission’s reaction to troublesome developments in Bulgaria to its policies on Poland, Hungary, and Romania. The latest CVM report on Bulgaria not only confirms this, but also leaves the impression that the Commission has given up on Bulgaria’s rule of law. Continue reading >>
13 Oktober 2019

How an EU Directive on Access to a Lawyer Became a Weapon for Secret Arrests

Directive 2013/48/EU of 22 October 2013 ‘on the right of access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings’ had an unfortunate fate in Bulgaria. In particular, the transposition is troublesome because the government used the Directive as a pretext to revive a totalitarian practice ­­– secret arrests. Continue reading >>
21 Juli 2019

A Judge Born in the USSR

The Sofia City Court which is notorious for its corruption is currently dealing with its latest scandal which involves the citizenship of the court’s President Alexey Trifonov. There are rising concerns that he is not a Bulgarian citizen – holding Bulgarian citizenship, however, is a requirement to serve as a magistrate in Bulgaria. The answer to a question, which appears to be simple at first glance – what is judge Trifonov’s citizenship? ­– requires the study of USSR and Bulgarian citizenship law applicable in 1972. The issue has already reached Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court and illustrates the deplorable state of Bulgaria’s rule of law. Continue reading >>
24 Juni 2019

Turning the Lights Off

On 14 June the Bulgarian minister of justice finally took the step to present to the public its long-awaited draft of the new accountability mechanism intended to ensure independent investigation for to the top three Bulgarian magistrates. The draft legislation proves that the concerns regarding the consequences for Bugaria's judicial independence were entirely justified. Continue reading >>
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16 Juni 2019

CVM Here, CVM There: The European Commission in Bulgaria’s Legal Wonderland

On 13 June 2019, Bulgaria’s Minister of Justice Danail Kirilov declared that he would resign unless the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism to which Bulgaria was subjected was lifted before the end of the Juncker Commission’s term. This statement comes in the middle of a highly controversial reform proposed by Kirilov. The reform is one of the key arguments Bulgaria intends to use to persuade the European Commission that the CVM should be terminated this year. Continue reading >>
03 Juni 2019

This is how Bulgarian Judicial Independence Ends…Not with a Bang but a Whimper

Bulgaria notoriously ranks at the bottom of all judicial independence and corruption indexes in the EU, even lagging far behind Member States such as Hungary and Poland. Under the guise of implementing EU recommendations and the case-law of the European of Human Rights, a reform proposal by Bulgaria’s Ministry of Justice is about to threaten Bulgaria’s judicial independence even further. Continue reading >>
23 April 2019

Is Bulgaria’s Rule of Law about to Die under the European Commission’s Nose? The Country’s Highest-Ranking Judge Fears So

On 17 April 2019, the President of Bulgaria’s Supreme Court of Cassation Lozan Panov was the keynote speaker at a yearly event dedicated to court independence. In his speech, Panov painted a vivid, yet gruesome picture of Bulgaria’s rule of law which is about to die like an oblivious frog in a pan of hot water reaching tipping point. Sadly, EU institutions have been turning a blind eye to the troublesome developments in Bulgaria for far too long. Continue reading >>
09 Januar 2019

Capturing Bulgaria’s Justice System: The Homestretch

While focusing on other EU members facing challenges in the area of rule of law, foreign commentators may not realize that the situation in Bulgaria is critical. Bulgaria’s executive is now headed into the homestretch of capturing the entire justice system. The current unprecedented proceedings against the President of the Supreme Court of Cassation would complete the capture if the plan that shows through – remove him from office – works. Continue reading >>
16 November 2018

Sweet Like Sugar, Bitter Like a Lemon: Bulgaria’s CVM Report

On 13 November 2018, the Commission published the latest reports on Bulgaria and Romania under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism. Bulgaria’s report is full of praise. Not surprisingly, the Bulgarian government was overjoyed. The civil society, on the other hand, was clearly upset. Why? The short answer is that the picture painted by the CVM report does not correspond to reality and only pours water to Bulgaria’s autocratic mill. Continue reading >>
22 September 2018

The Polish Judicial Council v The Bulgarian Judicial Council: Can You Spot the Difference?

On 17 September 2018, in Bucharest, the General Assembly of the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ) voted to suspend the membership of the Polish National Judicial Council (KRS) due to growing fears of lack of judicial independence in Poland. It was reported that 100 representatives voted for suspension, 6 were against (the Polish delegation), and 9 abstained. The Bulgarian delegation was among the abstainees, so Western commentators may wonder what the motivation for this position was. Continue reading >>
11 September 2018

On the Fragility of Detainees’ and Prisoners’ Rights in the EU

The further east in the EU one goes, the more one is overwhelmed by the state of prison conditions and the violations of prisoners’ and detainees’ rights. The situation in Bulgaria is particularly challenging because of the scale of the problem and the local authorities’ denial that it exists. Continue reading >>
02 August 2018

Bulgaria’s Constitutional Troubles with the Istanbul Convention

On July 27th Bulgaria's Constitutional Court ruled that the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention, contradicted Bulgaria’s Constitution. The decision may cause a stir among Western commentators not only because of its result, but also because of its peculiar legal arguments and untidy, repetitive narrative. Continue reading >>
11 Juli 2018

The Disheartening Speech by the President of Bulgaria’s Supreme Court Which Nobody in Brussels Noticed

While many foreign commentators focus on the endangered democratic values in Poland and Hungary, the situation in Bulgaria is equally deplorable. If the President of the Supreme Court contends that there is no separation of powers and that his family is facing abuse because he turns down orders by the executive, then surely ordinary citizens, especially critics of the government, have no means to protect themselves from the rage of those who have captured the Bulgarian State. Continue reading >>
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