8 Worrisome Charts on the Grim State of Bulgaria’s Rule of Law

In my article “All You Need to Know about Bulgaria’s Rule of Law in 10 Charts,” I showcased how corruption and the crackdown on human rights and freedoms have detrimental and far-reaching consequences for Bulgaria and for the EU. Since the article attracted much interest, here are 8 more charts, which may be helpful in understanding what went wrong in Bulgaria and which add new nuances to the rather grim picture of the current state of the country’s rule of law.

1. Flawed Elections

A Eurobarometer survey on Democracy and Elections, the results of which were published on 28 November 2018, highlights the fears, which haunt Bulgarian voters. As visible from Chart 1 below:

  • 72% of Bulgarians worry that the final results are manipulated (contrast with the 56% EU average)
  • 81% of Bulgarians fear that votes are being bought or sold (contrast with the 55% EU average)
  • 72% of Bulgarians believe people are coerced to vote a certain way (contrast with the 52% EU average)
Chart 1: The fears, which Bulgarian citizens have regarding elections; Source of chart: 2018 Eurobarometer Survey on Democracy and Elections.

Why are Bulgarians so pessimistic? Many Bulgarian voters are aware of the manipulations behind the curtain, which raise doubts regarding how democratic Bulgarian elections actually are. Moreover, not only voters are troubled by the government’s refusal to address the shortcomings, but also they are shocked to see how the government continues to take measures to limit voters’ rights, instead of ensuring fair elections. The country is currently shaken by a scandalous reform of the election law, which was vetoed by the President.

Some of the key issues, which stand out, include:

  • Dead souls: These are voters who are no longer alive, but who mysteriously vote for the government in power post mortem. Experts have established that dead souls comprise 18% of voters on the electoral register.
  • Manipulations in the counting: Every time there are elections in Bulgaria, there are multiple reports on falsified protocols. Yet, they are traditionally covered up. Bulgaria’s current President has asked for cameras in the polling stations to address these issues. While this seems to be an outdated mechanism to provide some transparency, such statements serve as a recognition of the severity of the problem.
  • Refusal to implement electronic voting: The government stubbornly refuses to implement electronic voting. In principle, Bulgaria is behind other EU member states when it comes to e-government. This is not for lack of capacity but for lack of will since e-government improves what the government fears the most – transparency. For more information, see the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI).
  • Public administration always votes for GERB: The GERB Party first came to power in 2009. In 2010, there were approximately 440,000 citizens working for the administration (broadly conceived). It is really striking that the government somewhat hides how many people work for the administration. Usually, they only give figures about those who work for the ministries and municipalities. However, vigilant citizens have established that there are more than 800,000 citizens working for the administration at the moment. Why does Bulgaria need so many people in the administration? It does not, but the government does need a “solid” electoral base.
  • Buying votes: As showcased in my previous article “All You Need to Know about Bulgaria’s Rule of Law in 10 Charts,” Bulgaria is the poorest EU country – it has the lowest GDP per capita, the lowest minimum wage, and the lowest median earnings. This may shed light on why some people literally sell their vote.

Overall, as established by the Eurobarometer 2018 survey (Chart 2), 52% of Bulgarian voters are NOT satisfied that elections are free and fair (contrast with the 24% EU average). It is even more revealing that 69% of Bulgarians are NOT satisfied that there is a proper fight against corruption.

Chart 2: Democratic Values in the EU and in Bulgaria; Source of chart: 2018 Eurobarometer Survey on Democracy and Elections

2. Rampant Corruption

In my previous article “All You Need to Know about Bulgaria’s Rule of Law in 10 Charts,” I raised concern that Bulgaria is traditionally ranked as the most corrupt EU member by Transparency International in their reputed Corruption Perceptions Index. The latest metrics, which were released this year, confirm this problem persists. Bulgaria was ranked as the most corrupt EU member and 77th in the world in the Corruption Perceptions Index 2018. Romania, by contrast, was 61st.

Of course, Transparency International are not the only NGO, which measures and monitors corruption. The Rule Of Law Index by the World Justice Project is really interesting because it measures corruption in four sectors – the executive branch, the judiciary, the police/military, and the legislature. Unlike Transparency International, the World Justice Project monitors only select countries, but their findings are eye-opening.

I used their measurements to make two tables, which illustrate Bulgaria’s dismal state (Chart 3 and Chart 4). Chart 3 below summarizes the findings under sub-factor 2.1 in the latest Rule of Law Index, which has been defined as “[g]overnment officials in the executive branch do not use public office for private gain.” The authors of the report further emphasize that this sub-factor “measures the prevalence of bribery, informal payments, and other inducements in the delivery of public services and the enforcement of regulations. It also measures whether government procurement and public works contracts are awarded through an open and competitive bidding process, and whether government officials at various levels of the executive branch refrain from embezzling public funds.”

As you see in Chart 3, Bulgaria’s executive is considered as corrupt as Russia’s executive. Moreover, the difference between Bulgaria’s score and Denmark’s score is more than double in this category.

Chart 3: Corruption of the Executive; Source of data: the latest Rule of Law Index.

Chart 4 below summarizes the findings under sub-factor 2.2 in the Rule of Law Index, which has been defined as “[g]overnment officials in the judicial branch do not use public office for private gain.” The authors of the report clarify that this sub-factor “[m]easures whether judges and judicial officials refrain from soliciting and accepting bribes to perform duties or expedite processes, and whether the judiciary and judicial rulings are free of improper influence by the government, private interests, and criminal organizations.”

Once again, the data on Bulgaria is alarming, especially by comparison with other EU states. Bulgaria’s judiciary is considered the most corrupt in the EU, almost as corrupt as Russia’s judiciary.

In light of both Chart 3 and Chart 4, it is worth mentioning that Bulgaria is currently trying to fake a fight against corruption by promoting its Anti-Corruption Agency (KPKONPI), which was recently established. However, ironically, this agency is used for harassment of inconvenient opponents of the government. In December 2018, Magistrats Européens pour la Démocratie et les Libertés (MEDEL) sent a letter of complaint to the EU Commission in which they raised concern about a number of issues, including the harassment of judges and the abuses by KPKONPI, which in essence is a political body without checks and balances. Pravosadie za Vseki (Justice for Everyone), an initiative defending human rights in Bulgaria, has also defined this Agency as a “baseball bat” against the government’s opponents. In principle, political persecutions are common. See my article “How to Harass Inconvenient Opponents of the Government: Bulgaria’s Playbook.”

Chart 4: Corruption of the Judiciary; Source of data: the latest Rule of Law Index.

3. Capturing the Courts

Of course, the above data should be analyzed in context. A corrupt executive has an interest in a corrupt judiciary. For years, Bulgaria’s government has been trying to capture Bulgaria’s courts. This has been primarily accomplished via the Supreme Judicial Council, which is Bulgaria’s body for electing and promoting all magistrates (judges, prosecutors, and investigators) and for monitoring their ethical values. This institution is a government mouthpiece: it traditionally promotes dependent judges, harasses independent judges by, for instance, initiating fake disciplinary proceedings against them, and refuses to investigate abuses of judges.

Bulgaria’s government is currently trying to capture the last remaining pocket of independence – Bulgaria’s Supreme Court of Cassation. See my article “Capturing Bulgaria’s Justice System: The Homestretch.” Judges who refuse to execute political orders are usually abused. Recently, judges who made preliminary references to the Court of Justice of the European Union have also faced abuses. Last year, a judge who made a preliminary reference was subjected to public shaming and accusations she was incompetent. The harassment was so disturbing that the Association of Judges had to intervene with a public statement.

A decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union of 12 February 2019 also illustrates the harassment to which Bulgarian judges are subjected. A Bulgarian judge asked if making a preliminary reference was compliant with EU law for fear that he might be subjected to disciplinary proceedings for making the reference.

Unsurprisingly, the Freedom Barometer by the Friedrich-Naumann Foundation has raised concern about the lack of judicial independence in Bulgaria, which takes us to Chart 5. I have summarized the scores, which the Freedom Barometer has given to EU countries in the category of judicial independence. As you see, while there is much talk about the assault on judicial independence in Poland and Hungary, Bulgaria’s score is actually worse.

Chart 5: Judicial Independence in the EU; Source of measurements: the latest Freedom Barometer.

4. Crackdown on Human Rights

In my previous article “All You Need to Know about Bulgaria’s Rule of Law in 10 Charts,” I used data from the 2017 Annual Report of the European Court of Rights to illustrate that Bulgaria is, sadly, a leader in violating the European Convention on Human Rights. The 2018 report does not look any better. As visible from Chart 6 and Chart 7, these are the top EU violators for 2018: Romania (71 lost cases), Hungary (35), Greece (30), Bulgaria (27), Lithuania (23), Poland (20).

Of course, one should consider the population of these countries, too. Bulgaria’s population is approximately 7.2 million while Poland’s is approximately 38 million. Proportionally, Bulgaria abuses substantially more citizens.

Chart 6: Violations of the European Convention on Human Rights by State; Source: 2018 Annual Report of the European Court of Human Rights
Chart 7: Violations of the European Convention on Human Rights by State; Source: 2018 Annual Report of the European Court of Human Rights

5. What Could Be Done?

As many of you probably know, there is a proposal for a new Regulation, which ties the rule of law to EU funding. Bulgaria vehemently opposed it and nobody should be surprised. Why? Bulgaria’s corrupt regime thrives on EU funds. If you read the previous article “All You Need to Know about Bulgaria’s Rule of Law in 10 Charts,” you probably know that there is almost no Foreign Direct Investment in Bulgaria. Investors ran away because there is no rule of law in the country: there are many claims against Bulgaria before the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, too.

Information on EU funds is traditionally scarce but I used public data available from the EU Commission and from the World Bank to make the table below (Chart 8). It illustrates the ratio between EU funding and the GDP in three countries – Bulgaria, Croatia, and Hungary. While the excessive funding in Hungary has sparked controversy due to rule of law and corruption concerns, Bulgaria actually receives more than Hungary proportionally. In other words, the EU funds a corrupt regime.

If you follow my work, you surely know that the situation in Bulgaria is critical. Meanwhile, the EU Commission is complicit with Bulgaria’s government and sugar-coats the reports on the country under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, which have become useless at this stage.

In case the current status quo in the EU is shattered following the 2019 European elections and if the Regulation enters into force, EU funds are certainly one of the venues through which corruption in Bulgaria can be challenged. Before anyone is worried that this would affect Bulgarian citizens, it should be remembered that in Bulgaria EU funds seem to be deviated to the private pockets of people affiliated with the government, and are not really used for development. There have been plenty of scandals with EU money, which have been reported in the media.

Chart 8: EU funding to GDP ratio; Source of data: for GDP, the World Bank, for EU funding, the EU Commission.

If you want to learn more about the deplorable state of Bulgaria’s rule of law, consider reading:

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