In late October, I was contacted by the Green European Journal, the independent publication of the Green European Foundation, which is one of the political foundations at an EU level. They wanted to learn more about Bulgaria’s longstanding challenges in the area of the rule of law. We talked for an hour about diverse issues – from corruption and rule of law decay, through rigged elections and scandals, to the future alternatives for Bulgaria, including the role of the Greens. I was surprised that they published our conversation almost in its entirety. You can read my interview here.
On 5 October 2020, the German Marshall Fund of the United States held a webinar dedicated to the first rule of law reports released by the European Commission under the new, much anticipated Rule of Law Mechanism. While the event was announced much before the publication of the reports, its title gave away the fears of rule of law experts – “Assessing the State of Rule of Law in the European Union: Diagnosis or Autopsy?”
I was honored to be invited to serve as one of the panelists along with Prof. Laurent Pech, Prof. Petra Bard, Anna Wójcik, who is the co-founder of Rule of Law in Poland, and Joachim Herrmann from the Cabinet of Commissioner Dreynders. As one could expect, the rule of law experts on the panel entertain very different views on the usefulness and the objectivity of these rule of law reports compared to the formal position of the European Commission. All of us seem to concur that the Commission spares hard truths for governments and that the reports rely heavily on euphemisms. I do believe that the criticism the Commission received was constructive and may benefit its own assessments in the future.
If you are interested in the debate, you can watch the recording on YouTube here. Prof. Pech discussed the general deficiencies of this mechanism while the rest of us critically evaluated the country chapters on Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria:Read More
Bulgaria’s fiery summer of protests led to a stormy fall. Sadly, there is a bitter feeling of dual standards in the air.
The government is clearly uncomfortable with the protests, so it resorted to a shameful trick typical of autocratic regimes – violence. Sadly, the EU Commission chose to look the other way. You can read my article “Protests in Bulgaria: will the EU at least condemn the violence?” for The Brussels Times here.
In stark contrast to the nonchalance of the EU Commission, the EU Parliament took some interest in Bulgaria’s democratic backsliding. At a hearing of the LIBE Committee dedicated to the rule of law decay in Bulgaria, however, Commissioner Vera Jourova, whose portfolio includes values and transparency in the EU, was afraid to depart from her institutional point of view and maintained that Bulgaria had been making steady progress under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism which monitors the country in the areas of rule of law, corruption, and organized crime. You can read my article “On Coins, Parallel Universes and the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism” for the Verfassungsblog in which I showcase the pitfalls of this mechanism and the hypocrisy of the EU Commission.Read More
The mass protests in Bulgaria of 2020 will be remembered for many reasons – the persistence of citizens, the fact that right-wingers and left-wingers stand together against corruption and autocracy, the police violence, the arrogance and political games of Borissov’s government and his GERB party and, sadly, the silence of EU institutions.
In August, I published my article entitled “Protests in Bulgaria: EU values, wherefore art thou?” with New Eastern Europe. I showcase the ambiguous reaction by EU institutions towards the protests and the dual standards regarding the rule of law which become more and more visible.
I was also interviewed for the Talk Eastern Europe podcast in early August about the protests and the perspectives ahead. As the hosts noted, Bulgaria is rarely covered by international media, so few people abroad are aware of the gravity of the political disaster which struck. You can listen to my interview here.
If you follow me, you know I often write about Bulgaria’s rule of law decay.
You can find a list of my blog posts and some of my articles for the media here! You can follow me on Twitter @radosveta_vass!
Earlier this month, I wrote an article for the blog of the #FBPE movement (Follow Back, Pro-European) about the challenges which Bulgaria faces in the area of rule of law and why the mass protests started. The hashtag was first used by Mr. Hendrik Klaassens in response to Brexit, but it quickly transformed into a movement. Currently, FBPE is even a word defined in English dictionaries. I am very grateful that they are now turning their eyes to and following the rule of law crises in Eastern Europe. You can read my contribution “Bulgaria’s Ignored Rule of Law Crisis” here.
If you follow me, you know I often write about Bulgaria’s rule of law decay.
In January 2020, Transparency International reconfirmed Bulgaria as the most corrupt EU member in its authoritative Corruption Perceptions Index. This is a good, but sad occasion to inform you about my latest media articles:
- In December 2019, I warned that Bulgaria was sabotaging the work of the future European Public Prosecutor in an article for Euronews. As you can imagine, the government was quite unhappy and responded with a libelous article published in their favorite tabloid (24 Chasa). If you cannot attack the argument, attack the author.
- In February 2020, I raised concern about the water crisis in Pernik, which I deem to be an illustration of what the lack of rule of law leads to, in an article for New Eastern Europe. The health and safety of more than 100,000 European Union citizens is at peril as a result of incompetence and negligence, but international media and EU policy-makers ignore this disaster.
- In February 2020, I showcased Bulgaria’s 10-year cat-and-mouse game with the Council of Europe in an article for the Verfassungsblog. Bulgaria has been refusing to comply with a decision by the European Court of Human Rights for a decade because it requires a reform of an institution which experts consider one of the biggest threats to the rule of law – Bulgaria’s Prosecutor’s Office.
All of these events provide further evidence that Bulgaria is a rule of law crisis in all but name – an argument I have made for the EUobserver in 2018. Sadly, this is possible because of the complicity of EU institutions.
For the latest updates on Bulgaria’s rule of law, follow me on Twitter @radosveta_vass!
Were you shocked by the racist abuse at the Bulgaria-England Euro qualifier? I never thought I would combine my interest in football with my concern for Bulgaria’s rule of law, but I felt compelled to take a stand. I have a huge admiration for people in professional sports because sports illustrate many of the qualities we aspire to – commitment, discipline, and hard work. Most of all, sports inspire us, ordinary people. The name of the game for true fans will always be football, but in Bulgaria, corruption is the bigger game. My commentary for Euronews entitled “Racism at the heart of Bulgarian football is becoming a litmus test for the rule of law” can be found here.
In this video post, I explain how and why the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) failed in Bulgaria. When Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union (EU) in 2007, they did not entirely fulfill the criteria on the rule of law. That is why, they were placed under this mechanism, so that they could catch up with other Member States. Twelve years later, little progress (if any) has been achieved.Read More
On 11 and 21 August 2019 I published two posts on my personal blog in which, through legal reasoning, I showcased how Bulgaria’s government purposefully misinforms the general public about the outcome in a case against Bulgaria before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) (SGRF v Bulgaria, Case No. ARB/15/43). Some of the few independent media which are left covered the second post in Bulgarian, which attracted public attention. On Friday night, 23 August 2019, Bulgaria’s Ministry of Finance published an unprecedented press release on its website in which it attacked me and my blog (Figure 1). Instead of providing a substantive answer to my legal opinion, Bulgaria’s Ministry of Finance said that my claims were “speculations” crafted by me and my father.
I have never heard of a state institution issuing a special press release about somebody’s academic blog post on a Friday night. As a scholar, I was not impressed by their ad hominem comments whose underlying purpose, it appears, is to attempt to discredit me before society as a whole. My father has not participated in the drafting of my articles: he has his own website where he publishes his criticism against the regime.
I do believe, however, that this press release constitutes harassment and that it is aimed at intimidating me. This serves as further evidence of the lack of rule of law in Bulgaria. In this post I summarize:
- the government’s lies which attracted my attention
- the research I have carried out
- why the government is afraid of the truth
- how harassing critics is a national policy
Here are three articles on three different subjects which evidence the lack of rule of law in Bulgaria:
- Can you undermine the recommendations of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) by pretending to comply with them? My article “CVM Here, CVM There: The European Commission in Bulgaria’s Legal Wonderland” for the Verfassungsblog;
- What can we infer about Bulgaria’s rule of law from a live streamed meeting between Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and the Commissioner for the Rule of Law Frans Timmermans? My opinion piece entitled “On the Price of Horses and the Rule of Law in the EU” for New Eastern Europe;
- Can you serve as a judge in Bulgaria in violation of the requirements to become a magistrate? My article “A Judge Born in the USSR: How a Judge’s Citizenship Became Relevant for Bulgaria’s Rule of Law and Judicial Self-Governance” for the Verfassungsblog.
If you are interested in daily updates on Bulgaria’s declining rule of law, you can follow me on Twitter @radosveta_vass
While the President of Bulgaria’s Supreme Court Lozan Panov laments the disintegration of the country’s rule of law, the European Commission praises the country’s progress in the same area. What is the price of complicity?
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. Since his appointment as the highest-ranking judge in Bulgaria, Panov has been outspoken about the abuses to which he has been subjected because he refuses to comply with political orders. The speech he gave at this conference, however, stands out due to its pessimism.
You can read my article dedicated to Judge Panov’s speech for the Verfassungsblog here.
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.Read More
Since a Twitter thread I started to draw attention to this dreadful topic attracted interest, I think it is time for a more detailed guide to understanding the mechanisms of harassing inconvenient opponents, which Bulgaria’s government traditionally employs.
Bulgaria has a long, sad history of framing people who are inconvenient for some reason – prosecutors, judges, businessmen who do not support the government, journalists who do not portray the government in the light it wants, civil servants who refuse to follow ludicrous political orders, etc. Unsurprisingly, it has lost hundreds of cases before the European Court of Human Rights because of violations of the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial. The practice, however, seems to have intensified in the past five years under the nose of the EU Commission, which is supposed to monitor Bulgaria under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism.
Here is a prototypical scenario:Read more
If you follow my blog, I am sure you know that Bulgaria faces systemic challenges in the area of rule of law and human rights. In May this year, I drew attention to Bulgaria’s deliberate breaches of the presumption of innocence, including show arrests, media trials in coordination with Bulgaria’s authorities, framing of people for political reasons, etc (see my article “Spectacular Televised Arrests, Media Trials, and Abuse of Process: The Presumption of Guilt in Bulgaria”).Read More
Manfred Weber is a changed man. In May 2018, he warned that people should not “point fingers” at Orban who was not a “bad European.” After months of turning his eyes away from the Hungarian rule of law crisis, on the day of the vote on the activation of Article 7(1) of the Treaty on the European Union against Hungary (12 September 2018), he did a 180 degree turn. ‘Today I will vote in favour of triggering
#Article7. I have always been in favour of building bridges and I want to continue to do so but yesterday I didn’t see any readiness from the Hungarian PM to make a move towards his EU partners and address our concerns. #Hungary,” he posted on Twitter. Four days later, Financial Times reported he was already concerned not only about Hungary, but also about Poland, Romania, and possibly other countries.
If you follow my blog, however, you probably know that Bulgaria’s democracy and rule of law are in a critical condition (if you do not, consider reading, for instance, All You Need to Know About Bulgaria’s Rule of Law in 10 Charts). So, while I appreciate the evolution of Weber’s views, I am troubled that he did not mention Bulgaria as a country he is worried about. Manfred Weber is running for President of the European Commission, so his opinion, fickle as it may be, can have huge consequences for the rule of law debate, which will surely continue to haunt EU institutions.
Is there something I am missing from the big picture? I carried out a Twitter survey to find out how Weber’s awkward silence on Bulgaria could be explained.
Shall we see what the survey found?
On 23 August 2017, I launched radosvetavassileva.blog to shed light on the lack of rule of law, the systemic and deliberate human rights abuses, and the rampant corruption in Bulgaria (most corrupt EU member according to Transparency International!). For one year, my approach towards analyzing these pressing issues has been predominantly legal: I have commented current events from the perspective of the legal framework, including Bulgaria’s international obligations, I have explained inconsistencies in case law, and I have raised concern about dangerous law reforms aimed at transforming Bulgaria into an autocratic State.
If you live in a democracy, however, it is surely difficult to imagine the full range of consequences and long-term effects of abuses in countries like Bulgaria. In turn, if you live in Bulgaria, maybe it is hard to visualize how the abuses other people experience affect YOU personally.
This time I will demonstrate what the lack of rule of law and corruption ‘look like’ with 10 simple graphs/tables. I will start with the more visible and direct consequences and move towards the more indirect effects, which are equally disturbing.
A month ago, the President of Bulgaria’s Supreme Court gave a disheartening speech which nobody in Brussels seems to have noticed. Read my latest piece dedicated to the lack of judicial independence and the deplorable state of the rule of law in Bulgaria for the Verfassungsblog.
Do you know there is currently a hunger strike at the Sofia prison – the largest detention facility in Bulgaria? Do you know why?
As you may or may not know, every six months one of the Member States of the European Union assumes the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union (also known as Council of Ministers). In practice, this means that the current government of the presiding Member State determines the agenda of the aforementioned Council, sets a work program aimed at enhancing the policies of the European Union, and chairs the planned meetings.