Emil Radev: It is high time to develop a European anticorruption strategy

The EU-wide rule of law mechanism will be applied according to the same objective criteria to all of the Member State

The notion that Bulgaria has lost the support of Brussels is being propagated on purpose. Disinformation in Europe is spreading rapidly, especially after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic Reforms constitute a process, and not a single action - therefore, the progress which is reported for our country is accepted as an assessment for a consistent and responsible work, the MEP said in an interview with Monitor News Agency.

Mr Radev, is there a real and clear statement from the European Commission that the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) for Bulgaria can be suspended?

Anyone who has doubts can read the latest monitoring report on the progress of Bulgaria. It is stated in black and white there that the progress under the CVM is appropriate and that our country has fulfilled its obligations assumed upon its accession to the EU. Reforms are ongoing, but the current dialogue, which the EC will now have with all the Member States, will be part of the new comprehensive rule of law mechanism. The positive trends in Bulgaria were also confirmed by the President of the European Parliament, who in December 2019 personally sent a letter to the EC to give a green light for ending the CVM. In this regard, we are not just talking about a statement from the EC, but about specific actions because of which this tool can be suspended. In practice, its usefulness has long been depleted - recently it has only been triggering criticism of our country and putting obstacles to our full participation in the Schengen area. The opposition in our country is doing everything possible to keep the mechanism in place with the only purpose to sabotage the ruling party. I sincerely regret that our society is divided on this important topic. Instead of working together for the progress of our country, our opponents are pursuing political dividends at the expense of the national interest.

EU Commissioner Vera Jourova stressed, however, that Bulgaria needs to achieve concrete results - especially in combating high-level government corruption. What are we still lacking and what do we need to implement in this regard?

Commissioner Vera Jourova drew attention to the conclusions which were made in the latest monitoring report, noting that Bulgaria needs to work on specific tasks within the scope of the new comprehensive European rule of law mechanism. Yes, one of these tasks, as you pointed out, is for the fight against corruption to continue. In today's global world, however, no Member State should wage this fight alone. It is high time to develop a European anticorruption strategy which should address the existing gaps, improve supervision and deepen cross-border cooperation. Corruption problems exist everywhere and this was confirmed in a Eurostat survey from June this year. In this survey on how widespread corruption is in each of the Member States, Bulgaria takes the 14th place, i.e. it stays in the middle of the ranking, immediately after France and Belgium.

What are your forecasts for the first annual report under this new mechanism, which is expected to come out at the end of September and whose scope will be broader than the CVM?

In fact, this new instrument will not just overlap the CVM we know, but it will broaden its scope. Moreover, the new rule of law mechanism is to apply to all of the EU Member States according to the same objective criteria. We have long been insisting for such a comprehensive tool in the European Parliament, which can easily present comparable information and avoid double standards. There is a great interest in the forthcoming report. It should provide an overall picture, reflecting developments in the Member States from January 2019 to the present. The new mechanism will also reflect the state of both the fight against corruption and the independence of the judiciary on the one hand, and the freedom of media on the other hand, which is one of the indisputable achievements of the democratic societies. Unfortunately, the problem with the quick spread of disinformation in Europe exists, especially after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. This global trend was taken into consideration, also during the discussion with EU Commissioner Jourova.

Can the current political situation in Bulgaria and the protests in the country affect its assessment?

Protests happen in all democratic states, and Bulgaria is not an exception. The right to protest is regulated in the Constitution of our country, but it comes along with the obligation to protest in a peaceful way. Demonstrations using gallows and coffins, throwing bombs, bottles, pavement stones, etc., would not be tolerated anywhere in the world. No democracy would indifferently accept such aggressive actions. It is a separate question of whether the oligarchs who have fled the Bulgarian judiciary, as well as the Russophile parties and failed or virtual political projects, do not misuse the energy of the protests. Yes, different opinions can be heard in Europe, but it is also clear that many of the demonstrations do not fit in the notion for a peaceful protest.

What are the comments about the political situation in Bulgaria and, generally, how do you accept the demands of your colleagues for Brussels to discuss it?

The notion that Bulgaria has lost the support of Brussels, and supposedly everyone in the EU is angrily shaking a finger at us, is being propagated on purpose. In its efforts to compromise the government, the opposition produces scandals, creates tension by speculations, and even the slightest criticism of our country is presented as an apocalypse. The efforts to transfer the domestic political fights at European level are obvious, but unfortunately, trying to denigrate the government, our opponents discredit Bulgaria. There is a clear understanding in Europe that reforms constitute a process, not a single action, so the progress which is reported for our country is accepted as an assessment of consistent and responsible work. With or without the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, the Bulgarian authorities remain committed to achieving irreversibility in the judicial reform and the fight against corruption, to ensuring the rule of law and to protecting the democratic values ​​and fundamental rights. That is the reason for Commissioner Jourova to praise Bulgaria for actively supporting the new comprehensive rule of law mechanism in all of the Member States. This in itself indicates that there is a will to cope with the problems in our country, problems that in fact do not apply only to our latitude.

Is there really need for a new Constitution? Is it a prerequisite for change, for tangible reforms?

Amending the Constitution of Bulgaria is the only way to implement the recommendations of the European Commission, the Venice Commission and the Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption (GRECO). Carrying out judicial reforms in line with these recommendations essentially requires us to adopt a new Constitution. It will not be a document created unilaterally by GERB or any other party. Only a Grand National Assembly can adopt it, and only after reaching broad consensus following debates with the involvement of all political parties, the academia and the civic sector. This is the way towards agreeing on a new social contract and meeting voters' expectations for a true rebooting of the state. GERB is simply taking the first resolute step, which none of its opponents has braved to do so far, even though the idea has long been floated in the public discourse.

What would a provisional government mean?

The powers of provisional governments are clearly laid out in our laws. There is no room for interpretation. But there is a narrative out there that the ruling coalition is afraid of a provisional government. Such insinuations are just as preposterous and unfounded as the speculations that GERB owes its election victories to manipulations. Alas, our opponents often find themselves tangled up in complex contradictions, including on that topic. By sowing doubt regarding the integrity of the election process, they are undermining the legitimacy of the democratically elected current president as well, whom they supported! After all, a provisional government appointed by the incumbent is the one that organised the 2017 general elections, which determined the makeup of the current National Assembly. I believe that in a time when analysts warn of negative economic trends worldwide our nation needs unity and a stable environment that can generate growth opportunities instead of tension and instability. There is a lot of work to be done on the next government budget, which is set to be introduced to the parliament floor before 31 October. Unfortunately, the parties that want to come to power at all costs fail to recognise that - by purposefully eroding public trust in institutions and discrediting the political system - they are setting a trap for themselves as well.

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