18 October 2023

At a Snail’s Pace

By 1 April 2018, member states had to transpose an EU Directive on ‘the strengthening of certain aspects of the presumption of innocence and of the right to be present at the trial in criminal proceedings’. Bulgaria has not fully transposed it to this day, and consistently undermines it. Now, finally, the Commission has launched infringement proceecings. Preceding the announcement, the Commission rejected Rasosveta Vassileva's reasoned complaints on the same issue, as late as 2022. Her odyssey is a concerning tale on how EU institutions handle citizen alerts.

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13 June 2023

Bulgaria’s Mafia State and the Failure of the CVM

Recent events in Bulgaria have brought the true extent of its rule of law decay to the fore. The wars between the highest-ranking prosecutors in the country, public testimonies by participants in crime syndicates implicating senior magistrates and politicians, and the brutal murders of potential witnesses against organized crime demonstrate that the line between organized crime, the judiciary, and the political apparatus is increasingly difficult to draw. In this post, I argue that the current escalation of Bulgaria’s rule of law crisis lays bare the European Commission’s continued mismanagement of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM).

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02 March 2023

Barring Legal Gender Reassignment in Bulgaria

The Bulgarian Supreme Court of Cassation (SCC) has recently rejected the possibility for legal gender reassignment of transgender people. The SCC followed the approach of the Constitutional Court in framing its reasoning alongside the lines of the traditional social values. In doing so, the interpretative decision arguably undermined its own goal of unifying the future case-law by avoiding the discussion on the right to equal treatment of transgender persons and their protection from discrimination on the ground of their sexuality.

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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.

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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.

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18 March 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.

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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.

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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.

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09 June 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.

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27 May 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.

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12 May 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.

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05 March 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.

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07 December 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.

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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?

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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.

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12 July 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.

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12 February 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.

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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.

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24 October 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.

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13 October 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.

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21 July 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.

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24 June 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 j