17 January 2000
Honouring of obligations and commitments by Bulgaria
Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee)
Rapporteurs: Mr David Atkinson, United Kingdom, European Democratic Group and Mr Henning Gjellerod, Denmark, Socialist Group
Further to their four fact-finding visits to Bulgaria since December 1997, the rapporteurs of the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, MM. Atkinson (United Kingdom, European Democratic Group) and Gjellerod (Denmark, Socialist Group) recommend to the Assembly to close the monitoring procedure concerning Bulgaria.
They pay tribute to the Bulgarian authorities for the progress made on the road to democracy and the country's stabilising role in the Balkans.
At the same time they launch an appeal to the Bulgarian authorities to provide better guarantees of the independence of the judiciary and the media (in particular through decriminalisation of libel and defamation on the part of journalists), the rights of minorities and local self-government.
The rapporteurs also insist on Bulgaria stepping up efforts to combat corruption and police brutality with assistance from the Council of Europe.
I. Draft resolution
1. Referring to the two reports by the Monitoring Committee on Bulgaria's honouring of obligations and commitments1, the Assembly is convinced that Bulgaria is committed to democratic reform and welcomes a number of major steps forward on the road to democracy, which include:
i. the abolition of the death penalty and the ratification of Protocol 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR);
ii. the adoption of a law on alternative service;
iii. the functioning of three court levels as provided for in the Constitution;
iv. the role played by President Stoyanov in the adoption of legislation in line with Council of Europe standards, including in the spheres of the media and the judicial system;
v. the adoption of amendments to current legislation on provisional detention and the transfer of the responsibility for provisional detention centres to the Ministry of Justice and Legal Euro-Integration;
vi. the government initiative to no longer apply the prison sentences provided for in the Criminal Code for libel and defamation;
vii. the ratification of the Framework Convention for the protection of national minorities;
viii. the holding of municipal elections in October 1999, which were considered “well organised and satifactory” by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe;
ix. the registration of Jehovah's Witnesses;
x. progress in the area of freedom of conscience and religion, despite widening rifts within the Orthodox church and the Muslim religious community;
xi. efforts on the part of the government to combat crime and corruption and improve prison conditions;
xii. the removal of compulsory licensing for Internet providers;
xiii. the agreements on languages concluded with "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" on 22 February 1999;
xiv. confirmation of the country's interest in membership of the European Union and of NATO and its contribution to a peaceful settlement of the Kosovo conflict.
2. The Assembly also appreciates Bulgaria's stabilising role in the Balkans.
3. However, the Assembly also notes a number of outstanding concerns and worrying trends:
i. the influence of the governing party over the judiciary, with the change in membership of the Supreme Judicial Council during the procedure to appoint the new Chief Prosecutor;
ii. the influence of the governing party over the public media with the change in membership of the National Radio and Television Council and the current procedure of licensing by a government appointed body;
iii. the insufficient implementation of minorities' constitutional rights as regards education and information in their mother tongue;
iv. the generalisation of corruption resulting in particular from illegal practices in privatisation, excessive licensing and various immunities enjoyed by judges, prosecutors and investigators;
v. the control exercised by the executive on the 28 districts recently established;
vi. the continued policy of dismissals of civil servants and corporate chief executives and the excessive time taken for their appeals to be heard;
vii. the delays in modernising labour legislation and improving pensioners' living standards;
viii. continuing police brutality, particularly as regards Roma;
ix. the increasing divide within society, mirroring the lack of dialogue between the governing majority and the opposition and the rifts within the Bulgarian Orthodox church and the Muslim religious community.
4. The Assembly, therefore, launches an appeal to the Bulgarian authorities to take the following steps in the near future, the implementation of which it will closely follow:
i. the Bulgarian National Assembly should take into account the present report and hold a debate on its conclusions;
ii. it should take greater account of European standards and the opinions of Council of Europe experts on the draft laws it examines;
iii. the independence of the judiciary and of the media against the executive authorities should be guaranteed and greater diversity of opinion on national television should be ensured;
iv. the rights of minorities, especially as regards education and broadcasting in their mother tongue, should be improved and respected; minorities should be better represented in the police and the public services;
v. the institution of an Ombudsman for human rights should be created;
vi. efforts to combat corruption and police brutality should be stepped up with assistance from the Council of Europe; the Constitution should be amended to bring the immunity of members of parliament, magistrates and senior officials in line with European standards;
vii. the 28 newly established districts should be given directly elected councils in accordance with the European Charter of Local Self-government;
viii. freedom of thought, conscience and religion should be maintained, in accordance with Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and the process of return of property to churches and the Muslim community should be continued;
ix. sanctions against journalists should be brought out of the sphere of criminal law and awards for damages limited to reasonable amounts, taking into account that journalists should abide by the principle of respect for privacy, in conformity with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
5. In the light of the above considerations, the Assembly considers the current monitoring procedure as closed. It will pursue its dialogue with the Bulgarian authorities on the issues referred to in paragraph 4, or any other issues arising from the obligations of Bulgaria as a member state of the Council of Europe, with a view to reopening procedure in accordance with Resolution 1115 (1997), if further clarification or enhanced co-operation should seem desirable.
II. Draft recommendation
1. The Assembly refers to its Resolution ….... of ……....... on Bulgaria's honouring of obligations and commitments.
2. It recommends to the Committee of Ministers to step up its assistance to Bulgarian authorities in the framework of its Programme of activities for the consolidation of democratic stability (ADACS), in particular in the following fields:
i. training of judges, magistrates, police officers and prison staff;
ii. fight against corruption;
iii. minority rights;
iv. implementation of the European Social Charter and the European Charter for local self-government.
III. Explanatory memorandum by MM. Atkinson and Gjellerod
Table of contents
I. THE SITUATION IN SEPTEMBER 1998 7
II. PROGRESS TOWARDS DEMOCRATISATION 9
i. Legislation 9
ii. Home Policy 10
iii. Foreign Policy 12
III. AREAS REQUIRING IMPROVEMENTS 12
i. Independence of the judiciary 12
ii. Independence of the media 14
iii. Minorities 16
iv. Local self-government 17
v. Social matters 18
vi. Corruption 19
vii. Police brutality 20
viii. The growing divide within society 21
IV. CONCLUSIONS 21
Appendix I Programme of the visit on 7-10 February 1999 24
Appendix II Programme of the visit on 5-8 December 1999 26
Appendix III Comments of the UDF parliamentary group 28
Appendix IV Standpoint of the parliamentary group of the Union for
National Salvation 60
Appendix V Comments by the parliamentary group of the Democratic Left 63
Appendix VI Comments by the parliamentary group of the European Left 69
1. Following their two fact-finding visits to Bulgaria (18-22 December 1997 and 7-9 June 1998), the rapporteurs had submitted an information report on the honouring of obligations and commitments by Bulgaria in respect of the Council of Europe (doc. 8180) to the Assembly on 21 September 1998. The report's main conclusions are set out in the first section of the present document.
2. The rapporteurs strongly commend the Bulgarian National Assembly for holding a debate on the information report in October 1998.
3. As part of the monitoring procedure, they undertook two fact-finding visits to the country from 7 to 10 February 1999 and from 5 to 8 December 1999 and wish to thank the Bulgarian parliamentary delegation for its assistance and hospitality in this connection. The programmes of these visits are set out in Appendix I and II.
4. During the visits they were able to observe a number of positive steps made towards democratisation but also certain tendencies remaining from the authoritarian and centralised past. These elements will be examined in turn following a review of the conclusions of the September 1998 information report.
I. THE SITUATION IN SEPTEMBER 1998
5. The main conclusions of the information report (Doc. 8180) submitted to the Assembly in September 1998 were the following:
"Generally speaking, the new UDF government in power since June 1997 has made progress in both economic and political terms:
—In flation which reached 310% in 1996 has been drastically reduced.—
—Th e World Bank has granted to Bulgaria a 100 million dollars loan and a new stabilisation programme was concluded with the IMF.—
—Th e European Union Luxembourg Summit decided in December 1997 that Bulgaria was a potential applicant for EU membership.—
—Pa rticipation in Nato peace-keeping operations is increasing and the pro-Nato orientation has been confirmed.—
—Th e Islamic Summit Conference held in Teheran in December 1997 took off its agenda the situation of the Bulgarian ethnic Turks.—
—Go od relations have been established with its neighbours, in particular Turkey, Greece and Romania, as well as with Russia; some problems remain with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (language problem).—
—Th ere is a consensus in parliament to integrate European structures.—
—Th e human rights record seems to be improving, according to most NGOs the rapporteurs met.6.
6. New positive developments
—Th e Supreme Court of Cassation and the Supreme Administrative Court are now set up, but the Courts of Appeal are still not operating.—
—A new National Council on Ethnic and Demographic Issues was set up in December 1997 and it seems to have the support of ethnic communities, in particular the Roma. This Council should play an important role in analysing the interethnic relationships in the country and work out appropriate solutions in co-operation with the Council of Europe. Bulgaria signed the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities on 9 October 1997, and it is hoped that it will soon ratify it.—
—An Alternative Service Act was adopted in 1998.—
—Fr eedom of religion is considered as satisfactory by most religious denominations and NGOs. However, the requirements for the registration of religious groups remain questionable.—
—Ad ministration: the draft law assessed by Council of Europe experts is to be welcomed. However, the National Assembly should take into account the comments of Council of Europe experts, in order to make the law more democratic.7.
7. Matters of concern
The National Radio and Television Council is, according to the opposition but not to the majority, composed of six members close to the ruling party (UDF) and one close to the opposition (Democratic Left), which would be in clear contradiction with the independent character of this body (and probably contrary to the European Convention on Transfrontier Television: the case is before the Constitutional Court).
New laws on radio and television and on telecommunications are to be adopted in 1998 and it is hoped that the National Assembly will take into account the assessments provided by the Council of Europe experts.
—In dependence of the judiciary is theoretically guaranteed but the new draft amendments on the Judicial System Act are a matter of concern. The committee will have to follow developments very closely in the months to come, not only with regard to new legislation but also to its implementation.—
—Po lice violence (old habits die hard), in particular against members of religious communities, Roma and street children. According to some NGO reports, police brutality is increasing. The committee will have to investigate whether this trend is due to greater transparency in reporting or to an actual deterioration of police behaviour.—
—Pu rges in administration, diplomatic corps and local authorities. The dismissals seem to be mainly of a political nature.In
In 1998, the National Assembly is to adopt a law on civil service; the Council of Europe should be consulted.
—Lo cal self-governmentTh
The alleged intention of the authorities to introduce drastic changes in the legislation on local self-government with a view to appointing mayors of villages and regional governors is rather worrying. The CLRAE should closely follow the matter.
—Ne w identity cardsTh
They are to be delivered by the Ministry of the Interior with a coded information content, which might be contrary to the protection of individual data.
—Ch ildren's prisonsTh
There are two such prisons (one for boys and one for girls) with unacceptable conditions. During their next visit the rapporteurs will check the situation on the spot.
—Th e relations between the majority in power and the opposition seem to be deteriorating and the lack of trust between them and between the population and the authorities might lead to a deep split in Bulgarian society.8.
8. Some preliminary recommendations
—Th e Council of Europe should be asked to evaluate the main draft laws to be adopted in 1998 (for example on religion and the civil service) and the Bulgarian authorities should take into account the comments of Council of Europe experts when adopting new legislation.—
—Th e Bulgarian authorities in power should endeavour to associate more the opposition political forces in their reform efforts in order to avoid a deep split in the society."9.
9. During their most recent visit (5-8 December 1999), the rapporteurs were informed of a number of new positive developments. However, it is clear for them that further progress is required.
II. PROGRESS TOWARDS DEMOCRATISATION
10. It should be noted from the outset that Bulgaria has clearly opted for democracy and the situation in the country is completely different from what it was barely ten years ago. The rapporteurs believe that this is amply proven by their meetings with journalists of all tendencies on 8 February and on 6 December 1999 at the premises of the Sega newspaper.
11. Since their visit in June 1998, they have noted a number of positive moves towards democratisation, particularly in the fields of legislation, home policy and foreign policy.
12. 1998 was marked above all by the abolition of the death penalty, through an amendment to the Criminal Code adopted by the National Assembly on 10 December 1998. All death sentences have been commuted to sentences of life imprisonment. On 29 September 1999, Bulgaria ratified Protocol 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights.
13. On 29 October 1998, the National Assembly adopted a law authorising alternative service, on which it should be congratulated.
14. On 7 May 1999, Bulgaria ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.
15. Furthermore, thanks to amendments to the Codes of Civil Procedure and Criminal Procedure, Appeal Courts became operational from April 1998 onwards. The three court levels provided for in the Constitution are now in place.
16. It was also in 1998 that laws on radio and television, on telecommunications and on the revision of the judicial system act were adopted. Praise is due in this connection to President Stoyanov, who used his veto several times to ensure that the versions adopted by the National Assembly took the comments of the Council of Europe experts into account.
17. As regards the law on administration, it must be noted that on 21 January 1999 the Constitutional Court annulled paragraph I of the transitional provisions concerning purges. This is to be welcomed although, according to many witness statements, the decision came a little late in the day since purges had already been achieved.
18. Another positive step forward was the amendment of the Code of Criminal Procedure to the effect that provisional detention may be ordered only by a judge.
19. As far as the Criminal Code is concerned, a few days prior to the rapporteurs' February 1999 visit, Mr Kostov's government2 announced its intention to propose to the National Assembly that the prison sentences provided for in Articles 146-148 for libel and defamation no longer be applied. These were glad tidings to journalists in particular, but the corresponding legislative changes still have to be made.
ii. Home policy
20. During their visits in 1999, the rapporteurs observed a number of changes in the area of freedom of conscience and religion, policing, conditions in prisons and relations between the governing majority and the opposition.
a) Freedom of conscience and religion
21. Thanks to the intervention of the European Commission of Human Rights, Jehovah's Witnesses are now registered and benefit from legislative provision for alternative service.
22. Furthermore, the representatives of the Protestant faith assured the rapporteurs that they have enjoyed complete freedom of religion since 1997.
23. This was confirmed by Mr L. Mladenov, Director of religious affairs under the Council of Ministers, who did point out however that some problems had been encountered in registering churches with local authorities. As for stays by foreign missionaries in Bulgaria, it appeared that the problem was being sorted out.
24. According to Mr Mladenov, one of the main sticking points for the government was the split within the Orthodox church. In talks with the Patriarch Maxim and the Bishop of Sofia, the rapporteurs realised the scale of the conflict between the two factions, which has now gone before the Supreme Administrative Court. In reply to the question as to whether they would respect a possible ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, the Bishop of Sofia said that he would comply with such a judgment and the Patriarch Maxim said that he would abide by canonical rules.
25. It should be noted that the rift within the Muslim religious community, which began in 1992, has not been settled yet.
26. In their information report of September 1998, the rapporteurs had highlighted police brutality, which often went unpunished.
27. A letter from Mr Gotzev, Minister of Justice and Legal Euro-Integration, to Mr Evans, Deputy Secretary General of Amnesty International, indicated that, in ten cases of suspects being injured or dying at the time of their arrest by police, prison sentences had been passed on police officers in only two cases and in one case a local police chief had been sacked; in all the other cases, either there had been no inquiry or it had not yielded any results.
28. Concerning the report on police violence drawn up in May 1998 by MM Rashkov, Director of the National Investigation Service, and Tatarshev, Chief Prosecutor, the rapporteurs at last managed to obtain a copy in February 1999, but it has not yet been debated by Parliament.
29. Finally, there is a promising initiative from Mr Bonev, Minister of the Interior, who is envisaging recruiting police officers of Rom origin in regions with a high density of population of Roma. He also showed us new passports and identity cards which should help to combat illegal immigration.
c) Conditions in prisons
30. On their February 1999 fact-finding visit to Bulgaria, the rapporteurs visited Boishinovtsi boys' prison about one hundred kilometres north of Sofia.
31. Some 150 teenagers are held there, one third of which are Roma. Like other prisons in Bulgaria, the prison is now run by the Ministry of Justice. It has an infirmary, a chapel, workshops, training staff and classrooms for primary and secondary education. The teenagers questioned by the rapporteurs said that conditions and food were fairly satisfactory.
d) Relations between the governing majority and the opposition
32. In their information report of September 1998 the rapporteurs had noted that these relations had deteriorated and a deep split risked emerging within society.
33. Despite President Stoyanov's repeated calls to improve political dialogue between the majority and the opposition, such dialogue has virtually ceased to exist in the country.
34. In January 1999 the leaders of the main opposition parties set up a co-ordinating council responsible for drawing up an alternative programme of government, which was made public on 13 July 1999.
iii. Foreign policy
35. Two recent events have marked relations between Bulgaria and two of its neighbours: "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
a) "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia"
36. In the information report of September 1998, the rapporteurs noted that, owing to the language problem, no agreements had yet been concluded between the two countries.
37. However, on 22 February 1999, the Prime ministers of both countries signed in Sofia a bilateral declaration "in Bulgarian language in conformity with the constitution of Bulgaria and in Macedonian language in conformity with the constitution of Macedonia".
38. This step allowed the signature of seven agreements blocked for years by this linguistic dispute. At the same time the two parties declared that they have no territorial claims towards each other.
39. Such an initiative is to be welcomed, all the more so that good news from the Balkans is something of a rare commodity.
b) The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
40. Bulgaria's position on the Kosovo conflict was made clear in a Declaration adopted by the National Assembly on 23 October 1998, whose provisions remain valid.
41. In that Declaration, the Parliament favoured a peaceful settlement to the conflict and reiterated its desire to co-operate with NATO while excluding any active Bulgarian participation in possible military operations in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
* * *
42. It is clear from the above that, since September 1998, Bulgaria has taken a number of steps forward along the path to democratisation, particularly as regards legislation and home and foreign policies. However, during their fact-finding visits in February and December 1999, the rapporteurs also noted several worrying trends, described in the next section.
III. AREAS REQUIRING IMPROVEMENTS
43. These are essentially the independence of the judiciary and the media, minority rights, local self-government, social conditions, corruption, police brutality and the growing divide within society.
i. Independence of the judiciary
44. In their information report of September 1998, the rapporteurs noted that "independence of the judiciary is theoretically guaranteed but the new draft amendments on the Judicial system Act are a matter of concern".
45. At the time, the Monitoring Committee had requested an opinion on the draft legislative amendments in question from the Venice Commission, whose working group visited Bulgaria from 18 to 21 February 1999 in order to discuss them with the competent authorities. However, before the Venice Commission could even express the slightest opinion, the National Assembly adopted all these amendments as of 30 September 1998.3 As some of them were vetoed by the President of the Republic, the National Assembly definitively adopted them on 5 November 1998. They entered into force on 15 November. Why such haste?
46. The matter seems to have been directly linked to the succession of the Chief Prosecutor, Mr Tatarshev, whose term of office expired on 18 February 1999. His successor was to be proposed by the Supreme Judicial Council and appointed by the President. The aim of one of the amendments adopted on 5 November 1998 was precisely to modify the membership of the Council. It should be noted that the former Council had proposed Mr Rashkov, Director of the National Investigation Service, to succeed Mr Tatarshev. The President had rejected the proposal. Finally, on 18 February 1999, the President of Bulgaria, Mr Stoyanov, appointed by decree the new Chief Prosecutor on a proposal by the new Supreme Judicial Council. The new Chief Prosecutor is Mr Nicola Filshev, who was up to then deputy Minister of Justice and Legal Euro-Integration.
47. It is true that this change of membership did comply with the Constitution (see article 4 of the transitional provisions), all the more so as it made possible the representation of all judicial categories in the Supreme Judicial Council. Indeed, this was confirmed by the Constitutional Court in its judgment of 14 January 1999.
48. It so was for this new Supreme Judicial Council to propose a new candidate to succeed Mr Tatarshev.
49. While correct procedures seem to have been followed, one cannot help remarking that, in its last ruling on the Supreme Judicial Council in 1994, the Constitutional Court had declared unconstitutional the suspension of the term of office of the Supreme Judicial Council before its expiry, term of office which the Constitution in Article 130.4 sets at 5 years.
50. And this time the issue was of crucial importance for those in power, if one reflects on the key role played by the Chief Prosecutor in the country's judicial and even political life.
51. If such a practice became the rule in Bulgaria, it might well be the case, as in the past, that each new majority changed the membership of the Supreme Judicial Council to guarantee its hold over the judiciary.
52. In March 1999, the Venice Commission adopted the following conclusions on the law amending and supplementing the law on the Judiciary, which are shared by the rapporteurs:
"Taken individually it seems possible to justify most of the measures in the amended Judicial System Act which have been impugned, nevertheless the measure taken as a whole represents a significant increase in the power of the parliamentary majority and of the executive. While the justification for this development is the serious problem relating to crime and the criminal justice system in Bulgaria, and while in a democracy the democratically elected Government and the responsible Minister must in the last analysis be accountable for the proper functioning of the judicial system, it would be desirable if in the longer term Bulgaria were to be able to move towards a system where the judges themselves, and the prosecutors, would be able to assume a greater responsibility for the proper functioning of the judicial and prosecutorial system and the executive would be able to step back from it. Although the new powers assumed by the Executive by virtue of the reform of the Judicial System Act are not incompatible with European standards concerning judicial independence, a judicious and restrained use of these new powers would be highly recommended.
53. If the judicial system is to function properly, it is essential that the political culture develop in such a way that the judicial system is not the subject of party political controversy and that respect for judicial independence becomes imbued in this culture. Wide political consensus is essential if the Supreme Judicial Council is to be effective. That consensus seems unfortunately to be lacking. It is not up to the Venice Commission to find fault or identify responsibilities. While in the last analysis it may be necessary to ensure that a parliamentary minority cannot block the election of the members of the Supreme Judicial Council to be chosen by the Parliament, it would nonetheless be desirable to seek the highest degree of consensus possible in the election process."
54. During their meeting with the new Chief Prosecutor, Mr Filshev, on 7 December 1999, the rapporteurs were told that the fight against corruption would be at the top of his agenda. In this respect, his intention is to take steps to remove the provisions of the constitution concerning the immunity of the members of the National Assembly (art. 70) and of judges, prosecutors and investigating magistrates (art. 132). It is to be hoped that such a step will be in line with the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, which considers that "security against the removal of members of the tribunal by the executive during their term of office is a necessary corollary of their independence".
55. Another development, which was particularly underlined by the Democratic Left and the European Left, concerns the newly adopted amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure. These amendments, which entered into force on 1 January 2000, aim in particular at entrusting pre-trial investigation of the majority of crimes to police officers appointed by the Minister of the Interior, under the supervision and guidance of the prosecutor.
56. Furthermore, the rapporteurs' attention was also drawn to the "misuse of special intelligence means", in particular as regards the Director of the National Investigation Service, Mr Rashkov (see Appendices V and VI).
ii. Independence of the media
57. In their information report of September 1998, the rapporteurs noted that "the National Radio and Television Council is, according to the opposition but not to the majority, composed of six members close to the ruling party (UDF) and one close to the opposition (Democratic Left), which would be in clear contradiction with the independent character of this body".
58. However, following the adoption of the Radio and Television Act on 23 September 1998, and again on 13 November 1998 owing to the presidential veto, the membership of the National Radio and Television Council was increased from 7 to 9 members, 5 of whom are elected by the National Assembly and 4 appointed by the President. One third of its membership is renewed every other year. The council's role is of key importance in that it has the responsibility of appointing the directors of national radio and television.
59. On 8 February 1999 the rapporteurs met the nine members of the new council. It is difficult to assess the opposition's claim that all nine members are close to the ruling party but it has to be said that one declared membership of the Democratic Party, which belongs to the governing coalition, and another said that he was very close to the UDF. None of the seven others indicated any sympathies with the opposition (see also the comments by the Union of Democratic Forces in Appendix III).
60. Whatever the case, the rapporteurs will be closely monitoring the written undertaking made by one member of the council, Mrs S. Bozhilova, to monitor radio and television broadcasts each day and publish a monthly report on programme balance. Moreover, the procedure for selecting the new director general of Bulgarian national television should be public.
61. As for the new law on telecommunications adopted in August 1998, this establishes a body empowered to grant licences to public and private television companies and telecommunications companies (see comments by the Democratic Left in Appendix V).
62. The members of this body are appointed by the Prime Minister, which, in the present context, provides no guarantee as to their independence. One particular problem has been raised in connection with the Internet but the rapporteurs have received written assurance from the Chairman of the State Telecommunications Commission that the procedure for granting licences to Internet servers is actually nothing more than a registration operation and was in no way intended to give the authorities a means of control over the availability of any information or over its content.
63. However, the Internet Society Bulgaria filed a case against the proposed licensing of Internet services at the Supreme Administrative Court of Bulgaria and, on 17 June 1999, the Court decided to suspend the execution of the relevant provision of the Order by the Chairman of the Posts and Telecommunications Committee (see also the comments by the European Left in Appendix VI). Finally, on 6 December 1999, Mr Markovsky, Chairman of the Internet Society, informed the rapporteurs that this provision had been repealed.
64. As regards radio broadcasting, there are two regulating bodies: the National Council for Radio and Television (NCRT) and the State Telecommunications Commission (DKD). DKD is appointed by the Prime Minister. Its chairman, Mr V. Stoikov, who belongs to the UDF, was appointed for seven years. Unfortunately, the procedure of licensing is poorly co-ordinated between these two groups. Part of DKD's responsibilities is to publicly announce the available frequencies for broadcasting, which has not yet been done.
65. The National Assembly recently examined in first reading a draft law on Access to public information, which, according to a number of NGOs, might oblige journalists to reveal their sources of information. This draft is being assessed by Council of Europe experts.
66. The mornings of 8 February and 6 December 1999 were devoted to meetings between the rapporteurs and one hundred or so journalists of all tendencies at the premises of the Sega newspaper. We would like to thank this newspaper for organising the meetings. The rapporteurs had been keen to hold such meetings owing to the numerous complaints they had received from journalists who had been imprisoned or fined under Articles 146 to 148 of the Criminal Code4. A few examples are:
- on 8 October 1998, the official agency BTA announced in a press release that a regional press journalist from the town of Vratza had received a one year and four months suspended prison sentence and a fine of 2,000,000 levas (10 times the average monthly salary) for putting two questions to the regional police chief in her newspaper "Istina"; the case is currently before the Supreme Court of Cassation;
- on 9 October 1998, three Bulgarian national radio journalists (Visa Nedyalkova, Antoaneta Nenkova and Emil Ivanov) were sacked for a two-hour broadcast criticising the party in power for corruption and party funding practices; according to the Union of Democratic Forces, the reasons for the dismissals were violations of the discipline, programme co-ordination and technology (see Appendix III);
- on 14 January 1999, criminal proceedings were instituted against Tatiana Vaksberg, a journalist with Radio Free Europe, for criticising the Chief Prosecutor, Mr Tatarshev.
67. And these are far from being isolated examples.
68. Another worrying trend concerns the recent dismissals of journalists of the public TV programmes, which is underlined by the European Left (Appendix VI).
69. The rapporteurs consider that pressurising journalists in this way is unacceptable. At the same time, they point out that Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights mentions both duties and responsibilities as regards freedom of expression. Moreover, Article 8 of the Convention safeguards the right to private life.
70. It is for this reason that in its Resolution 1165 on the right to privacy, adopted on 26 June 1998, the Assembly called on the governments of member States to:
- guarantee the possibility of taking an action under civil law, to enable a victim to claim possible damages for invasion of privacy;
- oblige editors having published information that proves to be false to publish prominent corrections at the request of those concerned.
71. A few days before the rapporteurs' arrival in Bulgaria in February 1999, Mr Kostov's government proposed that the prison sentences provided for in Articles 146-148 of the Criminal Code no longer be applied. The rapporteurs welcome this initiative, but they are still expecting confirmation of the arrangement by the National Assembly. Furthermore, they would like punishments imposed on journalists to be taken out of the criminal domain, keeping the financial penalties imposed on them to a reasonable level (and not up to 30,000 DM, as it is provided for in the draft amendment) and journalists to have better access to information. Moreover, they believe that it should be made easier for opposition politicians to participate in public television news programmes and that at least one national commercial television channel should be set up.
72. In their information report of September 1998, the rapporteurs had noted that "a new National Council on Ethnic and Demographic Issues was set up in December 1997 and it seems to have the support of ethnic communities, in particular the Roma. This Council should play an important role in analysing the interethnic relationships in the country and work out appropriate solutions in co-operation with the Council of Europe. Bulgaria signed the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities on 9 October 1997, and it is hoped that it will soon ratify it".
73. As regards the latter convention, on 18 February 1999 the National Assembly approved its ratification with the following declaration: "Ratification and implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities does not imply any right to engage in any activity violating the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the unitary Bulgarian State, its internal and international security".
74. While Bulgaria may be congratulated for managing its minority problems fairly well since 1990, the rapporteurs were nonetheless not oblivious to criticism expressed by the Union for National Salvation. In particular, minority languages are taught only as an option for a minimum of 13 pupils, or 7 pupils if the municipal council concerned agrees; this requirement is a distinct restriction of the constitutional right (see Article 36.2 of the Constitution) to teaching in minority languages. In addition, minority-language news broadcasts on public television are grossly inadequate5 and deprive numerous non-Bulgarian speakers of their right to information.
75. Finally, the minorities, particularly Roma, continue to complain of intolerance and xenophobia as well as discrimination in the sphere of employment. It is to be hoped that the specific programme for the integration of Roma into society, developped by the National Council on Ethnic and Demographic Issues, will help improving their situation.
76. During their visit from 7 to 10 February 1999, the rapporteurs were told that President Stoyanov had organised broad consultations with the political parties on the ratification of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. They deplore the fact that the Democratic Left did not participate in those consultations. Nevertheless, the Framework Convention has now been ratified.
77. It should be pointed out that on 7 December 1999 the rapporteurs met representatives of the Russian ethnic minority. Their main complaint concerns the restitution of property.
iv. Local self-government
78. On 19 December 1998, the National Assembly adopted legislation amending the 1995 Law on the administrative and regional structure of the Republic of Bulgaria, increasing the number of districts to 28. Since then, the Council of Ministers has appointed the 28 governors of those districts in accordance with the Constitution (see Article 143). According to the opposition, these governors all belong to the governing coalition. The Democratic Left states that "the rude intrusion into the work of democratically elected organs of local self-government by the politically appointed 28 regional governors has become a common practice" (see Appendix V). Such a state of affairs can only be a cause of concern to the rapporteurs, as the governors played an important role in the organisation of municipal elections scheduled for October 1999, even though officially they had no right to interfere in the elections. It would certainly be beneficial if, in keeping with the European Charter of Local Self-government ratified by Bulgaria on 10 May 1995, the districts were also given directly elected councils in the interests of more democratic management. At the moment, following the Regional Development Act promulgated on 23 March 1999, regional councils for regional development have been established to assist the governors. These councils are chaired by the governors, the members being the mayors of the municipalities in the district and one member of each municipal council.
79. As far as the municipal elections in October 1999 are concerned, the National Assembly amended electoral legislation on 29 July 1999, which had prompted protests from the opposition, which complained about the abolition of the borough councils in Sofia, Plovdiv and Varna and the fact that the mayors of villages with less than 500 inhabitants would no longer be elected by the population but by the municipal council of the municipality to which the village belongs. According to the Democratic Left, "more than 2.4 million people living in the districts of big towns and in small villages within the municipalites are deprived of the right to directly elect their representatives" (see Appendix V, as well as the comments of the European Left in Appendix VI). In August 1999, 53 parliamentarians challenged before the Constitutional Court a number of provisions of the Act amending the Local Government and Local Administration Act and of the Act amending the Local Elections Act.
80. However, in its ruling No. 12 of 24 August 1999, the Constitutional Court declared all these provisions constitutional and compatible with the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
81. The rapporteurs are grateful to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe for having monitored the elections. Its observers considered that the elections were "well organised and satisfactory". The UDF won 31.30% of the votes, the Bulgarian Socialist Party 29.39%, the Union for National Salvation 11.6% and the European Left 7%.
v. Social matters
82. During their meetings with the Bulgarian Diplomatic Society on 9 February and 7 December 1999, the rapporteurs were told that the Foreign Affairs Ministry was continuing to dismiss civil servants: 325 dismissals between March 1997 and February 1999. At present, all diplomats on foreign postings since 1998 had one-year temporary contracts and all the diplomats who returned to Sofia in 1998 were forced to sign work contracts of 6 months' duration at the most. This development, which makes it substantially easier for the authorities to "lawfully" dismiss staff by simply not renewing their contract, is most worrying.
83. Furthermore, the total number of lawsuits between January and December 1999 amounted to 68, of which 2 had been completed. 8 cases are still examined by courts in the first instance, 24 were judged in favour of the Ministry but appealed by the other party and 34 were judged in favour of former employees but appealed by the Ministry.
84. Mrs N. Mikhaylova, Minister of Foreign Affairs, assured the rapporteurs that all court decisions would be complied with by her ministry.
85. The rapporteurs, while deploring such a staff policy, insisted that the diplomats dismissed should be able to defend their rights before a court, receive proper compensation and enjoy pension rights.
86. They were also told that the forms provided for by the transitional provisions of the new law on the administration, on which membership of the Bulgarian communist party prior to 1990 and participation in state security service activities were to be declared, had already been filled in by officials and sent back to their authorities. Those provisions had been annulled by the Constitutional Court on 21 January 1999. What guarantee was there that the data given in the replies would not be used?
87. Finally, the rapporteurs asked Mrs Mikhaylova for a written explanation of the sacking of Mr Georgi Gotev; the reply has been received. They also asked for the reasons for the sacking of Mr Tshavdar Khristov from the Ministry of Trade and Tourism. Explanations are given by the Union of Democratic Forces in Appendix III.
b) Temporary contracts and redundancies in business
88. The rapporteurs were informed of the growing practice of obliging both public and private sector employees to accept temporary contracts, which made it much easier to make them redundant.
89. This is a deplorable development and the rapporteurs call on the Bulgarian authorities to introduce labour legislation guaranteeing security of employment as a matter of urgency.
90. They were also shocked by the list of 130 chief executives of major Bulgarian companies sacked between 1997 and 1999, provided by the Democratic Left, and are keen to have some explanations for this wave of dismissals (information was provided by the Union of Democratic Forces – see Appendix III – but the rapporteurs decided not to make public the proposed addendum for reasons of protection of privacy).
c) Other social problems
91. The rapporteurs are well aware of Bulgaria's present economic difficulties and commend the Bulgarian government's efforts to improve the situation and its successes in encouraging economic growth and curbing inflation.
92. However, they are greatly concerned by the low level of pensions, which often do not even cover the cost of winter heating. In a letter sent to the rapporteurs in January 1999, Mr T. Ignatov, retired after 33 years as an airline pilot, said that his monthly pension amounted to 60 dollars, while heating for his flat cost 68 dollars in December 1998.
93. The Bulgarian government must take urgent action over the situation of pensioners and guarantee them decent living standards. The pension reform referred to in the comments by the Union of Democratic Forces should shortly contribute to improving their situation.
94. Another cause for concern is trade union rights within the army. The rapporteurs' attention has been drawn to the situation of Bulgarian officers in the Rakovsky Legion, an organisation set up in 1990 to smooth the transition towards democracy. Articles 197 and 198 of the 1996 Armed Forces and Defence Act prohibit the organisation of such associations. Whilst this does not contradict Art. 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, it is to be hoped that this legislation will shortly be softened.
95. According to numerous statements, corruption is on the increase in Bulgaria despite the government's efforts and the anti-corruption plan it introduced in 1998 as part of the "Coalition 2000" initiative.
96. One particularly striking example is the corruption scandal within the customs service, exposed in 1998 by Mr Emil Dimitrov, finance inspector, whom the rapporteurs met in Sofia on 9 February. Mr Dimitrov had publicly revealed that customs scams, based on the corruption of officials and the falsification of documents, had generated 560 million dollars in 1997 and 700 million in 1998, without counting arms and drugs trafficking. His report was published on 7 August 1998 and debated by the National Assembly only on 19 October. The State's most prominent figures are alleged to benefit from these ill-gotten gains, which, according to Mr Dimitrov, also greatly contribute to political party funds.
97. Despite these revelations, the political leaders concerned have gone unpunished.6 On the other hand, three Bulgarian national radio journalists who made a programme on the affair have been sacked.
98. Another example is linked to privatisation. According to Podkrepa trade union, the fishing harbour of Burgas was sold for 400.000 US dollars, which is four times less than the real annual profit from the exploitation of the harhour complex. The Chief Prosecutor, Mr Filshev, assured the rapporteurs that he will personally follow the investigations.
99. It is high time that the Bulgarian government took the necessary steps since, as President Stoyanov recently pointed out, corruption might well become one of the main barriers to the establishment of democratic values and European integration.
100. Another matter of concern is trafficking in Schengen visas. The press is full of small ads offering such visas for 500 Deutschmarks. This trafficking is made possible by collusion between Western diplomatic staff posted in Sofia and travel agencies. Mr Bonev, Minister of the Interior, told the rapporteurs that he was well aware of the problem and determined to take action.
101. It has to be recalled in this connection that, on 2 June 1993, Bulgaria ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Laundering, search, seizure and confiscation of the proceeds from crime.
vii. Police brutality
102. In their information report of September 1998, the rapporteurs had expressed concern over police brutality, particularly towards members of religious communities, Roma and street children.
103. A report published by Amnesty International in December 1998 reported seven cases in which police officers had opened fire, killing six individuals and wounding two others. The organisation called on the Bulgarian authorities to establish the responsibilities of the officers as soon as possible and apply the appropriate sanctions.
104. During their February 1999 visit, the rapporteurs at last managed to obtain a copy of the report on police violence drawn up in May 1998 by Mr Tatarshev, Chief Prosecutor, and Mr Rashkov, Director of the National Investigation Service, which has never been debated by the National Assembly. In this report, the Chief Prosecutor and the Director of the National Investigation Service draw the attention of the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister to a number of problems in the co-operation between the judiciary and the Ministry of the Interior, and underline the latter's responsibility. Their criticism concerns mainly the violent behaviour of policemen, breaches of the secrecy of judicial investigations and the use of special intelligence services. Concrete examples are provided in the 22 appendices. The Prosecutor's Office and the National Investigation Service were seized with about 135 cases of persons ill-treated by the police in 1997 and 1998. 69 investigations of cases filed against police officers are underway. The authors request the intervention of the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister to end the "war" fought by the executive against the judiciary.
105. In any case, the rapporteurs believe at this point that special attention should be given to issues concerning recruitment policy, training and motivation of policemen, codes of conduct, psychological counselling of field officers and their awareness of human rights issues. As it appears from the comments by the Union of Democratic Forces, amendments to the law on the Ministry of the Interior are being examined by the National Assembly in order to better regulate police activities. Let us hope that they will be efficiently implemented.
viii. The growing divide within society
106. The rift within Bulgarian society and the political sphere is growing each day, along similar lines to the Orthodox church mentioned above.
107. Two years ago, following an unprecedented political and economic crisis, all the political parties concluded an agreement on the need for reforms. At present that agreement has been abandoned on all sides. Dialogue between the governing majority and the opposition has broken down.
108. It is for this reason that President Stoyanov recently issued several calls to political leaders to cease their futile bickering and co-operate in securing the adoption of reforms vital to the country's future. The rapporteurs cannot but back President Stoyanov's initiatives.
109. It is undeniable that Bulgaria has opted for democratic reform and, on 10 December 1999, the European Union Helsinki Summit decided to include Bulgaria among the countries with which the European Union would open accession negotiations.
110. During their recent fact-finding visits to Bulgaria, the rapporteurs have observed a number of major steps forward on the road to democracy, which include:
- the abolition of the death penalty and the ratification of Protocol 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights;
- the adoption of a law on alternative service;
- the functioning of three court levels as provided for in the Constitution;
- the role played by President Stoyanov in the adoption of legislation in line with Council of Europe standards, including in the spheres of the media and the judicial system;
- the adoption of amendments to current legislation on provisional detention and the transfer of the responsibility for provisional detention centres to the Ministry of Justice and Legal Euro-Integration;
- the government initiative to no longer apply the prison sentences provided for in the Criminal Code for insults and defamation;
- the ratification of the Framework Convention for the protection of national minorities;
- the registration of Jehovah's Witnesses;
- progress in the area of freedom of conscience and religion, despite the widening rift within the Orthodox church and the Muslim religious community;
- efforts on the part of the government to combat crime and corruption and improve
- the removal of compulsory licensing for Internet providers;
- the agreements concluded with "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" on 22 February 1999;
- confirmation of the country's leaning towards NATO and to contribute to a peaceful settlement of the Kosovo conflict.
111. However, the rapporteurs have also noted a number of outstanding concerns and worrying trends:
- the influence of the governing party over the judiciary, with the change in membership of the Supreme Judicial Council during the procedure to appoint the new Chief Prosecutor;
- the influence of the governing party over the public media with the change in membership of the National Radio and Television Council and the growing use of licensing;
- the insufficient implementation of minorities' constitutional rights as regards education and information in their mother tongue;
- the generalisation of corruption resulting in particular from illegal practices in privatisation, excessive licensing and various immunities enjoyed by judges, prosecutors and investigators;
- the control secured by the executive on the 28 districts recently established;
- the continued policy of dismissals of civil servants and corporate chief executives;
- the delays in modernising labour legislation and improving pensioners' living standards;
- continuing police brutality, particularly as regards Roma;
- the increasing divide within society, mirroring the lack of dialogue between the governing majority and the opposition and the rift within the Bulgarian Orthodox church and the Muslim religious community.
112. The rapporteurs appreciate Bulgaria's stabilising role in the Balkans and hope that, notwithstanding these few points of criticism, the present report will convince public opinion that Bulgaria is on the way to becoming a democratic State and will help the country to become a completely integrated and fully fledged member country of the European institutions.
113. It is with this in mind that they launch an appeal to the Bulgarian authorities to take the following steps in the near future, the implementation of which they will closely follow in the framework of the monitoring procedure:
a) the Bulgarian National Assembly should take into account the present report and hold a debate on its conclusions;
b) it should take greater account of the opinions of Council of Europe experts on the draft laws it examines;
c) the Bulgarian authorities should provide better guarantees of the independence of the judiciary and the media and ensure greater diversity on national television;
d) the rights of minorities as regards education and information in their mother tongue should be improved and respected;
e) efforts to combat corruption and police brutality should be stepped up with assistance from the Council of Europe;
f) the 28 newly established districts should be given directly elected councils in accordance with the European Charter of Local Self-government;
g) sanctions against journalists should be brought out of the sphere of criminal law and fines limited to reasonable amounts, given that journalists should be bound by the principle of respect for privacy, in conformity with Art. 8 of the ECHR;
h) the Bulgarian authorities should improve social protection for citizens, particularly as regards security of employment and levels of pensions;
i) training programmes for judges, police officers and prison staff should be stepped up in conjunction with the Council of Europe under the programme of activities for the consolidation of democratic stability (ADACS);
j) the executive should strive to involve the political opposition in its reform efforts and opposition should play a more constructive role, to prevent a further deepening of the divide within society.
114. In the light of the above considerations, the rapporteurs consider that the current monitoring procedure concerning Bulgaria should be closed. Nevertheless, the Monitoring Committee should pursue its dialogue with the Bulgarian authorities on the issues referred to in paragraph 113, or any other issues arising from the obligations of Bulgaria as a member state of the Council of Europe. The rapporteurs have the firm intention to initiate reopening procedure in accordance with Resolution 1115 (1997), if further clarification or enhanced co-operation should seem desirable.
Programme of the rapporteurs' fact-finding visit to Bulgaria
(7-10 February 1999)
Sunday 7 February 1999
afternoon Arrival of the delegation
6.00 pm Meeting with Mrs N. Mikhaylova, Minister of Foreign Affairs
7.00 pm Meeting with the Ambassadors of Hungary, Denmark and the United Kingdom
Monday 8 February 1999
8.00 am Working breakfast with Mr A. Agov, chairman of the parliamentary committee on foreign policy and integration
9.00 am Meeting with journalists at the "Sega" newspaper
1.00 pm Meeting with the Bulgarian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly
1.30 pm Meeting with the parliamentary group of the People's Union
2.00 pm Meeting with the parliamentary group of the Democratic Left
2.30 pm Meeting with the parliamentary group "Euroleft"
3.00 pm Meeting with the parliamentary group of the Union for National Salvation
3.30 pm Meeting with the parliamentary group of the Union of Democratic Forces
4.00 pm Break
4.15 pm Meeting with the National Radio and Television Council
5.15 pm Meeting with Mr V. Gotzev, Minister of Justice and Legal Euro-integration
6.15 pm Meeting with Mr B. Bonev, Minister of the Interior
7.15 pm Break
7.30 pm Meeting with the Supreme Court of Cassation
8.30 pm Working dinner with representatives of civil society and
Mr B. Todorov, director of the Information and Documentation Centre on the Council of Europe
Tuesday 9 February 1999
7.30 am Working breakfast with Mr E. Dimitrov, finance inspector
8.30 am Meeting with Mr Y. Sokolov, Speaker of the National Assembly of Bulgaria
9.15 am Meeting with Mr I. Tatarshev, Chief Prosecutor
10.15 am Meeting with Mr Z. Stalev, President of the Constitutional Court
11.15 am Meeting with the Bulgarian Diplomatic Society
2.00 pm Departure for Boishinovtsi (prison for young offenders)
9.00 pm Return to Sofia
Wednesday 10 February 1999
7.30 am Working breakfast with deputies from the Bulgarian Business Bloc
8.30 am Meeting with the protestant community
9.00 am Meeting with Mr L. Mladenov, Director of religious affairs under the Council of Ministers
10.00 am Meeting with the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox church
10.45 am Meeting with the Bishop of Sofia
11.30 am Meeting with the delegation of the European Union in Bulgaria
1.00 pm Press conference
2.15 pm Meeting with representatives of the Rakovsky Legion
afternoon Departure of the delegation.
Programme of the rapporteurs' fact-finding visit to Bulgaria
(5-8 December 1999)
Sunday 5 December
afternoon Arrival of the delegation
7.00 pm Meeting with Ambassadors of the United Kingdom, Denmark and the European Union
Monday 6 December
8.00 am Meeting with Mr B. Bonev, Minister of Interior
9.00 am Meeting with journalists at the "Sega" newspaper
11.30 am Meeting with representatives of the Rakovsky Legion
1.00 pm Meeting with the Vice-Chairman of the National Assembly,
Mr A. Djerov
2.00 pm Meeting with the Bulgarian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly
3.00 pm Meeting with Mr M. Radev, Minister of Finance, and Mr P. Minev, Deputy Minister of Finance and Head of Customs
4.00 pm Meeting with Mr M. Tagarinski, Minister of the State Administration
5.00 pm Meeting with Mr V. Gotzev, Minister of Justice and Legal Euro-integration
6.00 pm Meeting with Mr Markovsky, Chairman of Internet Society
6.30 pm Meeting with Mr V. Stoikov, Chairman of the State
8.00 pm Working dinner with representatives of civil society and
Mr B. Todorov, Director of the Information and Documentation Centre on the Council of Europe
Tuesday 7 December
8.00 am Meeting with Mr K. Trenshev, Podkrepa, Confederation of Labour
9.00 am Meeting with Mr N. Filshev, Prosecutor General
9.45 am Departure to Plodiv
11.15 am Meeting with Mr S. Dochkov, Chairman of the City Council, and the Chairmen of the political factions
2.30 pm Departure to Sofia
4.00 pm Meeting with the Bulgarian Diplomatic Society
5.00 pm Meeting with Mrs N. Mikhailova, Minister of Foreign Affairs
6.00 pm Meeting with Mr N. Gendjev, Muslim religious community
7.00 pm Meeting with Mr L.Dilov, Secretary of the movement Gergiovden, and Mr E. Dimitrov, former finance inspector
8.00 pm Meeting with Mr L. Hodkevitsh, Chairman of the Russian Community in Bulgaria
Wednesday 8 December
7.15 am Working breakfast with Mr Y. Minkov, MP, Bulgarian Business Bloc
8.00 am Meeting with representatives of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church
8.30 am Meeting with the Bishop of Sofia
9.00 am Meeting with Mr B. Rashkov, Director of the Specialised Investigation Service
10.00 am Meeting with the Parliamentary Group of the Democratic Left
10.45 am Meeting with the Parliamentary Group of the Bulgarian Euroleft
11.30 am Meeting with the Parliamentary Group of the Union for National Salvation
12.15 pm Meeting with the Parliamentary Group of the People's Union
1.00 pm Meeting with the Parliamentary Group of the UDF
2.00 pm Press Conference
afternoon Departure of the delegation.
Comments of the UDF parliamentary group
on the memorandum to the preliminary draft report
on the honouring of obligations and commitments by Bulgaria
prepared by the co-rapporteurs, Mr Atkinson and Mr Gjellerod,
and the secretary of the Monitoring Committee, Mr Dufour
The members of the UDF parliamentary group have examined the memorandum to the preliminary draft report to the PACE report drawn up in accordance with the procedure laid down in Resolution 1115.
The UDF parliamentary group highly appreciates the efforts of the two co-rapporteurs and the Secretary of the Monitoring Committee in their willingness to prepare an objective report reflecting the actual situation in Bulgaria, helping the Bulgarian authorities undertake the necessary steps for meeting the European standards.
At the same time, we are aware of the difficulty of this task, as the delegation was confronted with contradictory information provided by the persons they met, calling for verification of that information.
However, we do count on a good-intentioned attitude to our comments in order to make sure that the report will play its positive role in the Bulgarian society. We also hope to see an objective resolution to be proposed for voting by the PACE members.
We cannot but express our regret that the monitoring procedure and the texts in the preliminary draft report were used intentionally one more time by some persons in Bulgaria in order to level attacks against the government, while ignoring the fact that most of the critical remarks were questions to be answered rather than conclusions of the co-rapporteurs.
We also see that such a campaign serves those nostalgically-minded people dreaming of the cold war times and the Brezhnev doctrine and the euro-sceptics in Bulgaria and abroad, who are not willing to see Bulgaria's integration in the European Union and Nato and use some texts of the draft report speculatively for their own selfish purposes through their influence in the media. We have seen that the PACE procedure is not capable of ensuring the confidentiality of the documents in accordance with Resolution 1115, which leads to unpleasant misunderstandings.
The monitoring procedure is not and should not be presented as “court investigation and trial”. It is an equal dialogue between equal and equitable partners, willing to share a common future based on common values.
Seven years ago, on 7 May 1992, Bulgaria became a full member of the Council of Europe. The resolution on our accession did not identify any specific conditions and commitments to be fulfilled other than those valid for the member states that had joined the Council of Europe earlier.
Nevertheless, we are making all efforts to harmonise our standards with those of the Council of Europe.
The preliminary draft report gives due recognition of these efforts, which is an encouraging sign to us on the part of the Council of Europe. We would like to thank the experts from the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission, who have assisted us in the drafting of the new important laws related to the reform process in the judiciary and the public administration.
The amendments to the Criminal Code have been drafted with the personal contribution and assistance of the Minister of Justice of Italy, the Professor in criminal law
Dr Flick, the Minister of Justice of Germany, the Professor in constitutional law Dr Edgart Schmidt-Jorzig, and the Chief Anti-Mafia Prosecutor of Italy, Mr Piero Luigi Vigna.
We have been consulted by Ms Hanna Suchocka, Minister of Justice of Poland, on the Judicial System Act. Prof. Hermann and Prof. Drexel, experts of the Council of Europe, have made an expertise of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Forty judges have attended training seminars with the assistance of the European Union, including training in the Court of the European Communities in Luxembourg. A school for magistrates has been established with the participation of the Ministry of Justice and Legal Euro-integration and the Legal Interaction Alliance, where systematic training is conducted on issues of the national legislation and the EC law.
We would like to thank also the CLRAE for the assistance provided in the drafting of the legislation related to local governments.
We would like to make the following specific comments in the text of the preliminary draft report:
1. Article 4 mentions a number of positive steps made towards democratisation but it also talks of “certain tendencies remaining from the authoritarian and centralised past”. We find that this observation is based on some ill-grounded attacks by the opposition, which are part of inner-party clashes.
We cannot see any argument in favour of this allegation, only repetition of unsubstantiated claims by the opposition. Conversely, institutions operate normally in Bulgaria, while strictly observing the prevalent principle of separation of powers. In the law-making process, the parliament examines the government bills and introduces any changes at its own discretion. The President has repeatedly exercised his right to veto on whole laws or parts thereof. The Constitutional Court has also ruled in many instances on unconstitutionality and repealed various provisions of laws.
This is perceived as a normal procedure rather than as a clash between powers.
Therefore we cannot agree with this part of the preliminary draft report. We do not find any substantial difference in this respect between Bulgaria and other countries like, for example, the United Kingdom, France or Germany.
2. Articles 5 to 9 reproduce the main conclusions of the information report (Doc. 8180). It was discussed at the PACE and at the Bulgarian Parliament and a number of texts were criticised as wrong.
Therefore we find it appropriate to specify the errors seen also in the preliminary draft report:
3. Article 6 reads that the courts of appeal are still not operating (at that time) — this is an obvious mistake, which has not been corrected in the information report either. These courts have been operating since April 1998 (rather than since June 1998, as stated in the new report).
4. Article 7 claimed that the new identity cards would contain coded information. During their subsequent visit, the rapporteurs saw those cards and established that they had machine readable information content, and not coded information content, as is the case in all EU member states.
5. Article 7 stated that the conditions in children’s prisons were unacceptable (although the co-rapporteurs had not visited such prisons but they relied too much on information furnished by NGOs).
During their subsequent visit, the rapporteurs went to that prison and saw for themselves that it had a school, a chapel, a swimming pool under construction, a vocational training workshop (donated by the British Government). The rapporteurs expressed their satisfaction with the conditions upon their departure. It would be appropriate to have that conclusion recorded in the report.
6. Article 7 expresses concern with alleged drastic changes in the legislation on local self-government with a view to appointing mayors, etc. This cannot be confirmed with any bill presented to parliament.
At present, the intentions to introduce changes in the respective legislation relate to the run-off, where the idea is to have the first two rather than the first three candidates running the second round; to register coalitions locally rather than nationally; to reduce the number of councillors minimally (and not to reduce that number at all in small communities).
7. Article 7 mentioned the need for the opinion of the Venice Commission with regard to the law on civil service. (That was the reason for its delayed adoption.)
After the opinion was received, the Committee for Legal Matters and Anti-Corruption Legislation withdrew its report for the second reading, introduced the necessary changes that incorporated the recommendations of the Venice Commission and submitted its new report. The bill passed through second reading in the House.
All this comes to indicate Bulgaria’s sincere wish to accept the assistance provided also by the Council of Europe in the drafting of the new legislation.
Thus we believe that we have fulfilled the recommendation given in Section 8.
As to the other preliminary recommendation, that is, to associate more the opposition political forces in their reform efforts, we find it very urgent for the Council of Europe to recommend also a more constructive approach of the opposition political forces to the reform process.
We wish to recall that sixteen bills presented by the opposition were enacted during the previous session of parliament and two more bills were passed at the very outset of the new session, as well as hundreds of proposed amendments to existing laws.
We would like to emphasise that we wish to see opposition political forces support the reform process rather than opposing it.
In a number of cases, agreement was reached with two out of the three opposition parliamentary groups (Alliance for National Salvation and Euroleft), who voted in favour of the Military Doctrine (introducing modern principles in the armed forces), the National Security Conception, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, etc.
When the law repealing the death penalty was put to the vote, that accord was joined also by some BSP MPs. On 7 May 1999, Bulgaria signed Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights. The ratification bill has been presented to the National Assembly and there exists full consensus on its adoption.
Consensus was reached in the adoption of the strategy for the development of the energy sector and energy efficiency as well.
At the same time, it is not realistic to expect the opposition to support the government in all cases; otherwise, it would not be any opposition at all. In this respect, Bulgaria cannot differ from the other European countries.
We can only regret that the BSP and the Euroleft voted against when such an important matter of principle was put to the vote as the ratification of Bulgaria’s agreement with Nato to open up part of the Bulgarian air space for the Allied Force operation.
Furthermore, after the PACE recommendation to the Committee of Ministers, underlying that the PACE holds Milošević and his government responsible for the crimes against humanity perpetrated in Kosovo, some half-forgotten phraseology from the cold war period lurked instead, which comes to show very clearly that the change in the mentality of some politicians has not been irreversible.
We also regret that the BSP representatives did not support the Agreement on the Multinational Peace Forces in South-Eastern Europe (promulgated in the Official Gazette on 21 May 1999) and the permission given for the stay of foreign naval vessels, military aircraft and servicemen within the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria for participation in the Nato Co-operative Partner ’99 exercise within the framework of the Partnership for Peace initiative (adopted by the National Assembly on 8 June 1999), aimed at developing regional co-operation in the military sphere and building confidence and co-operation with our neighbouring countries in the security and defence sphere.
8. Article 17 says in its last sentence that “purges had already been achieved” on the grounds of the law on administration before the relevant paragraph 1 of the Transitional Provisions was annulled.
This is definitely untrue.
The collection of data was discontinued and the information on the former membership of the Communist Party was destroyed and it has never been used.
The law on civil service has already been passed by the National Assembly and its promulgation is upcoming.
Still, a sizeable portion of the records of the former Communist Party have been kept in the state archives since 1990 and they can be used without any constraints under the general terms and conditions. By way of comparison, we would like to cite the example with Germany, where all STASI agents have been reported in a special directory that is accessible to the general public.
9. Article 24 in connection with the split within the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. The supreme body of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church is the Ecclesiastical and Popular Council. It is a kind of a church parliament, consisting of priests, monks and laymen. No such Council has ever been convened since 1971, whereas elections for its “deputies” (eparchial councillors) have not been held since 1952. Therefore some circles in the church insist on the convention of such a Council but Patriarch Maxim opposes the idea, as he is obviously afraid of the decisions that the Council would make.
10. Articles 25 and 26 speak of police brutality going unpunished.
Such a conclusion cannot build only on the letter by the Minister of Justice to Amnesty International, since it covers some specific cases.
A more detailed report comes to show that seventy-seven cases of police brutality have been brought with a total of 111 defendants. Thirty seven cases have been completed with forty-one persons convicted and eight persons acquitted.
11. Article 27 — the Tatarshev-Rashkov report, referring to 135 cases of police violence. An inquiry conducted by the Ministry of the Interior has come to prove that only in two cases petitions have been filed with the Ministry of the Interior, for which investigation proceedings have started with the Varna regional Military Prosecutor's Office. The Ministry of the Interior has no data available as to whether the persons specified have been detained at all in nineteen of the cases reported. In thirty-two cases, the persons resisted at the time of their arrest, including the resort to weapons (the authors have not verified these facts or have ignored them).
The same report speaks of sixty-nine pending preliminary proceedings. However, the information available at the Ministry of the Interior points to forty-four such cases, whereas no information is available as to any proceedings in the other twenty-five cases.
It is only justifiable to ask why Mr Tatarshev and Mr Rashkov, who were Chief Prosecutor and Director of the National Investigation Service respectively at that time, would address parliament when it was precisely their duty to open investigation and proceedings in those cases.
The Ministry of the Interior organises training programmes for policemen at the Higher Institute for Officer Training, the NCO schools at the Ministry of the Interior, and the Phare, Tempus and Odissey programmes, including a human rights training element. We have to mention separately the participation in the Police and Human Rights 1997-2000 Programme at the Council of Europe.
The Ministry of the Interior works also with some NGOs, such as the Centre for Human Rights, ASSET Foundation, Human Rights without Frontiers, Future, etc.
The Ministry runs some programmes of its own, for example Police and Human Rights or Police and Refugees.
The problems of homeless children are solved together with the Free and Democratic Bulgaria Foundation, the Bulgarian Youth Red Cross Society, the Democratic Women's Union, the Childhood Fund, The Bulgarian chapter of the International Association for Protection of Children, the Foreign Aid Agency and others.
12. Article 30 — we expect the rapporteurs to give a fair assessment of the conditions in the prison for young offenders on the basis of the information they collected and presented in the report.
13. Article 33 — no alternative programme of government to bring together the three opposition groups has evolved. It should be noted that there exist substantial differences between opposition groups with regard to various aspects of government.
14. Article 40 — it could be noted that parliament ratified an agreement with Nato to open up part of the Bulgarian air space for the Allied Force operation on 4 May 1999.
In that case, Bulgaria stood as a Nato ally, sharing the objective to put an end to the crimes against humanity perpetrated by Milošević in Kosovo. The BSP and the Euroleft voted against the ratification.
15. Article 45 — the co-rapporteurs were given the precise chronicle of the amendments to the Judicial System Act, showing that the procedure started almost a year prior to the election of a new Chief Prosecutor. We are surprised not to find it in the draft report.
The current wording reproduces some theses of the opposition press and misrepresents the objective of the judicial reform. Therefore we attach the chronicle of the adoption of the Judicial System Act in Addendum I.
Since only an excerpt form the opinion of the Venice Commission is quoted with reference to the Act in Section 51, which might lead to ambiguous interpretation if taken separately from the report, we refer to the full text of the opinion of the Venice Commission in Doc. CDL (99) 20. We fully accept that opinion. Moreover, it is positive with regard to the adopted legislation.
As a matter of fact, these amendments have finalised the judicial reform in conformity with the requirements of the Constitution.
The earlier judgment of the Constitutional Court concerned an unjustified change of the Supreme Judicial Council, which was proposed by the socialists at the time of their government. In this particular case, the change became necessary because of the introduction of three-instance jurisdiction in accordance with the Constitution and the requirement to have all new judicial structures represented in the Council.
As to the comments in Section 45 on Mr Filshev, the new Chief Prosecutor, we can point out that he is an expert, an associate professor in criminal law at the Sofia University. He was nominated by a representative of prosecutors in the Supreme Judicial Council. He has never had any party affiliations. All sides emphasised his professionalism. He joined the Ministry of Justice as an expert in criminal legislation. The Supreme Judicial Council elected him in two rounds, where he won by a slight margin. This is one more argument to prove the diversity of opinion in the Supreme Judicial Council.
It is not true that the President rejected the first nominee of the Supreme Judicial Council at the request of a number of deputies. He did so in response to the request of the Supreme Judicial Council, waiting for the opinion of the Constitutional Court to confirm the legitimacy of the elected Council. We would like to recall that the first nomination was made four months prior to the expiration of the term of office of the then Chief Prosecutor.
In fact, the new Council was elected at the end of the time limit prescribed by law. Therefore the law could allow no delay. The Supreme Judicial Council consists of fourteen members elected by the judiciary (judges, prosecutors, investigation officers) and eleven members elected by parliament. The opposition refused to nominate anyone when the parliamentary quota was voted. All elected members are depoliticised and possess the required professional qualities.
It would be of interest to note that, after his election, Chief Prosecutor Filshev ordered an inquiry, which found out that sixty-eight cases of serious economic offences had disappeared form the Prosecutor's Offices. Investigation proceedings have started on this case. Besides, it has been ascertained that some 200 cases have been left without any progress, which is impermissible. The prosecutors to blame have been demoted. In accordance with the Constitution, magistrates may not be dismissed, unless it is proven that they have committed offence.
We all hope that the new structure of the judicial system and the new procedure will greatly enhance the efficiency of the measures against organised crime and corruption.
When the public administration reform is finalised (including the laws on the public administration, the civil servants, the free access to information and the state secret), the situation will hopefully greatly improve in this sphere, too.
The participation of the Ministry of the Interior in the Octopus Project of the European Commission and the Council of Europe for combating corruption and organised crime completes the picture.
In 1998, the Ministry of the Interior detected 2 969 service offences and 102 cases of bribery.
The pirate manufacturing of CDs was discontinued and, as a result, Bulgaria was removed from the 301 special lists.
Three channels for smuggling weapons and two channels for smuggling strategic raw materials were disclosed in 1998. Twenty-five channels for trafficking in stolen cars were stopped and information is processed about twenty more channels of that type. There were seized 228 luxury cars which had been stolen, smuggled or involved in insurance fraud. Many channels for smuggling stolen cars from Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Canada were disrupted.
Twenty-five cases were brought to court for smuggling of goods subject to excise tax. The smuggling of sugar into the country was stopped and investigation started against the offenders.
Many channels for smuggling of cigarettes and spirits into the country were destroyed. Eleven channels for smuggling cultural and historic values were disrupted.
Six channels for trafficking in heroine and other drugs, including a laboratory for purification of amphetamines, were disclosed.
Thirty-seven cases of smuggling of drugs were established and 150 persons, out of whom eighteen foreign nationals, were detained.
The National Squad for Combating Organised Crime brought forty-four cases of corruption in the central and local government in 1998.
There is no political umbrella over the defendants. Some examples to this effect are the case with UDF representatives in the city of Russe.
According to the Ministry of the Interior, crime rates have dropped in Sofia by 27% this year, which is probably the result of these measures. As to the cited corruption in European embassies in the issuance of visas, this issue goes beyond the powers of the Bulgarian authorities but we are prepared to provide assistance if requested by these embassies in the effort to overcome the problem.
Bulgarians have been exposed to plundering by organised groups for the last ten years. As early as 1989 it became clear that resources borrowed in the form of sovereign debt had been distributed among former officers from the political police and also given to some foreign nationals enjoying the trust of the then Communist Party to start business in Bulgaria and abroad.
These funds can be identified only if international solidarity with Bulgaria is demonstrated.
From 1993 to 1997, local banks were “pumped dry” through unsecured loans extended to companies with a very low level of limited liability. Then the Bulgarian National Bank refinanced those banks. The loans were never repaid.
In a confidential report of 1996, the then Minister of the Interior Mr N. Dobrev, from the BSP, disclosed that situation before the Council of Ministers, stating that 60% of the people employed in the banking system and private businesses were former officers and collaborators of the political police and the Communist Party. No action followed. The deficit was covered through drastic devaluation of the national currency. Thus Bulgarians were plundered. Criminal liability must be sought for that situation, as the case is in any European country. The same refers to the embezzlement perpetrated by certain economic groups.
The currency board arrangements were introduced when the United Democratic Forces came to power. The Bulgarian National Bank ceased to refinance banks and print money without any coverage. The local currency was pegged to the Deutschmark and, after the introduction of the euro, to the euro respectively. Thus financial discipline has been imposed. The tax legislation has changed (the tax reform has been completed successfully), enabling budget revenues to exceed expenditures. These steps have been matched with an extended three-year facility agreed with the IMF. Efforts are being made to reform customs authorities. As a result of all these measures, the country has achieved remarkable financial stabilisation, as recognised by all international financial institutions.
16. Article 84 of the preliminary draft report mentions a meeting with Mr Emil Dimitrov, finance inspector. We have asked for a report by the Minister of Finance, which states that the inspection report of Mr Dimitrov does not contain any evidence to prove his allegations of abuse and corruption. If he has got hold of any evidence, he should produce it and he has not done so yet. Besides, he has not named or identified “the state’s most prominent figures” and the greatly boosted “political party funds” in order to have inspection conducted. Thus his claims turn into ill-grounded allegations. Mr Dimitrov has failed to issue statements of violation to the persons whom he finds to be responsible, although his duty as a finance inspector requires him to do so.
As to his third allegation of having disclosed “arms and drugs trafficking”, finance inspectors are not involved in such matters. These spheres come within the powers of the Ministry of the Interior and the National Squad for Combating Organised Crime, which detect numerous cases of this type, as stated earlier. If he had had any data to that effect, he should have made it available to the Ministry of the Interior and the National Squad for Combating Organised Crime. The inspection report on the General Customs Administration has been sent to the Chief Prosecutor's Office, which has not held any persons liable because of the lack of any evidence. Therefore we believe that this information is sufficient to conclude that corruption levels have allegedly reached US$ 1.2 billion. Mr Dimitrov has joined the Gergyovden (St George's Day) Movement, which pursues political aims and we view his moves from this perspective, too.
A group of NGOs from the Coalition — 2000 Initiative work along the line of struggle against corruption which is highly appreciated by us. We find that much has been achieved for the last two years and that the situation is radically different from what it used to be in the beginning of 1997.
A law has been passed on the measures against money laundering, as consulted with the European Commission experts.
Bulgaria has joined the Convention of the Council of Europe on fighting corruption.
We hope that the Council of Europe will appreciate and support the efforts to combat corruption.
17. Article 53 should be supplemented by the fact that one-third of the membership of the National Radio and Television Council is renewed every other year, lots are cast to have two members from the parliamentary quota and one member from the presidential quota replaced, in two years' time two members from the presidential quota and one member from the parliamentary quota are replaced and so on. This rotation ensures both continuity and renewal of the membership, elected by the new parliament and President and a well-balanced body is thus formed.
18. Article 54 — we would like to add that the National Radio and Television Council includes a former member of the Communist Party and another member who is close to Euroleft. However, all members, except for one who belongs to the Democratic Party, are not affiliated to any political party.
19. Article 55 — the monitoring conducted by the National Radio and Television Council has ascertained that the coverage of the opposition forces in the national broadcasting media is even more extensive that that of the ruling party. This is not surprising, since no substantial changes of staff have taken place in the Bulgarian National Television and the Bulgarian National Radio for the last ten years. Almost all printed media and many electronic media are private. Some of them belong to economic groups and express opposition views. They enjoy special support because their limited circulation does not enable them to be self-supporting. We should remember that, prior to 1990, journalism was an ideological subject and hence the curriculum and the selection of students served ideological purposes. Of course, we would like to encourage young journalists to defend the independence of the media and oppose any pressure or political assignments coming from economic groups or political circles. The media should occupy their proper place in society and become aware of their responsibilities. Therefore we would recommend that training programmes be organised for journalists with the assistance of the Council of Europe. We believe that the role of journalists in the reform of society is of paramount importance of the success of the overall reform process. We cannot accept any allegations of government control over the media. If any influence on the media could be spoken of, it could come from economic groups and opposition circles, on the base of their personal relations with the journalists.
20. Article 58 — we cannot agree with the second example. Mrs Visa Nedyalkova and her two colleagues were sacked for gross violation of the programme technological discipline. They put their programme on air without permission. The content of the programme was not discussed.
All the documents on that case were made available to the secretariat of the committee and we are surprised not to see them reflected in the draft report. The interpretation of this labour dispute is totally untrue. We are sending enclosed a report and once again all the documents made available by the National Radio and Television Council at our request (Addendum III).
21. Article 62 — we are sending enclosed in Addendum II new information on the activities of the National Council on Ethnic and Demographic Issues.
22. Article 64 — the existing Regulation No. 5 dated 30 May 1994, Article 19, paragraph 1 specifies that the minimum number of pupils in an optional class is thirteen. However, paragraph 3 makes it possible to have optional classes of seven pupils, too, at a decision of the respective Municipal Council for schools in smaller communities. New regulations on the implementation of the Public Education Act are in the pipeline to introduce the possibility for pupils whose mother tongue is not the Bulgarian language to study their mother tongue within the framework of their compulsory classes.
The bill on educational levels, general educational standards and curricula states that the study of the mother tongue is included in the range of compulsory subjects, from among which pupils can choose. These classes plus the compulsory subjects which are not taught at the choice of the pupils make up the time to be spent in class within the framework of the curriculum.
In this particular case, in pursuance of Article 20 of Regulation No. 5 on determining the size of classes, groups of eight pupils may form a class.
As far as our information goes, in many European countries and in the United States pupils from several smaller communities are taken by bus to schools where larger classes can be formed.
23. Article 66 — we must underline that the Bulgarian Socialist Party (Democratic Left) failed to support the ratification of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, as well as the Law on Educational Levels, General Educational Standards and Curricula, which regulates the study of the mother tongue.
24. Article 68 — In accordance with the Constitution, district governors serve as the link between the central government and the local governments and they are appointed by the Council of Ministers. In three districts, where a sizeable Turkish population lives, three deputy district governors from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms have been appointed (but their party has dissociated itself from them).
District councils have already been set up in pursuance of the law on regional development. They include all the mayors of municipalities in the respective district and one more representative elected by the respective municipal council.
The National Council for Regional Development includes an ex officio representative of the National Association of Municipalities in the Republic of Bulgaria. District governors have no right to interfere in the elections. Their powers lie exclusively in the supervision of the legitimacy of the instruments adopted by mayors and municipal councils. Any disputes between them are referred to the court of law.
25. Article 69 — the protests of the opposition are not based on any specific bill. Currently, some minor amendments to the existing law are contemplated as follows:
—th e first two candidates carrying the largest number of votes from the first round will go to the run-off instead of the first three candidates;—
—th e number of municipal councillors will be reduced by a very slight margin, depending on the size of municipalities (there will be no actual reduction in smaller municipalities);—
—th ere will be no mandatory central registration of coalitions.26
26. Article 70 — we have to point out the difference between “cutting jobs” (redundancies) and “dismissals”. In accordance with the agreements with the IMF, 10% cuts have been made in the public administration, reducing the number of jobs.
There are some dismissals, too, with clearly stated reasons. There are cases where dismissals did not comply with the law and then the court reinstated the dismissed persons
It is irrelevant to impress the idea of alleged political reasons because those dismissed from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and those remaining to work at the ministry do not differ in political terms. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been depoliticised since 1990 and all the staff fill in statements of depoliticising.
At present, the deputy ministers of Foreign Affairs are career diplomats.
The upcoming law on the civil servants will give legitimate status to all civil servants and thus the relationships in this sphere will be regulated.
27. Article 72 contains an error. Mrs N. Mikhaylova is not Minister of Justice, she is Foreign Affairs Minister.The Minister of Justice and Legal Euro-Integration is Mr V. Gotzev.
28. Article 73 — The insistence of the rapporteurs, in fact, reflects provisions of the Bulgarian Constitution, which have always been observed. We find it difficult to understand the presence of such a text in the draft report because it is not based on any real problem. Proper compensation and pension rights apply equally to all Bulgarian citizens in the event of redundancies or unemployment.
29. Article 75 — As to the sacking of Mr Tshavdar Khristov, the Ministry of Trade and Tourism (this is the precise name of the ministry) provides the following answer:
Mr Khristov is a former trade representative in Brussels. His employment relationship with the Ministry of Trade and Tourism was cancelled on 1 May 1998 because the requirements to the job were changed and he was not eligible in terms of the new requirements (Article 328, paragraph 1, sub-paragraph 11 of the Labour Code).
Requirements were changed because of the following objective factors:
1. The functions of the Ministry of Trade and Tourism changed, as the Committee for Tourism was closed down and its functions were taken over by the ministry.
2. The scope, functions and tasks of the ministry were expanded, thus requiring higher qualification levels for some jobs. In this respect, the duties of trade representatives encompassed also tasks related to the co-operation and representation in the sphere of domestic and international tourism.
Therefore the qualifications of Mr Khristov were evaluated in the light of the requirements of the new job and it was found out that he did not comply with those requirements. Thus his employment relationship with the ministry was cancelled in observance of the law.
30. Article 76 — as to temporary contracts, we can point out that they are common practice, including the administration of the Council of Europe.
As far as civil servants are concerned, the new law will regulate their legal status.
As to private companies, this is a matter to be solved between employers and employees, while observing the requirements of the Labour Code.
31. Article 78 — the initial allegations of the left wing reached the number of 35 000, which actually exceeded the total number of employees in the central government administration, whereas the left wing dominates in the local government administration. Therefore we were interested to see the more modest new list of 130 names, as made available to us by the secretariat of the committee. Here we can point out that the list is inaccurate. Many persons listed there terminated their contracts due to retirement. Others were sacked by the Socialist Government. There is a case of a person on the list, who has been re-appointed as Managing Director of the company. The list includes also persons who were hired on the basis of private service contracts for specific assignments rather than employment contracts. Others were dismissed for failure to perform their duties, poor financial results of their companies or ineligibility for the post. Therefore we believe that the rapporteurs should verify the information provided by the opposition before drawing general conclusions.
We would like to note that, after 1994, local administrations, where the left wing dominates in many municipal councils, have almost no employees who are members of the United Democratic Forces. The few employees of that group were replaced. We should recall also the numerous political appointments by the present-day opposition when it was in power during the previous term of office (1994-97)
32. Articles 80 and 81 — the problem with pensioners, pointed out by the rapporteurs, is one of the most serious problems we are confronted with. After the left-wing government, in the beginning of 1997, the average pension was US$ 2 or US$ 3 per month At present, it ranges from US$ 60 to US$ 70. This is not sufficient but the progress is obvious.
Prior to 1989, at the times of the communist regime, the pension fund was closed down and its property was confiscated. Pensions were paid out of the government budget. Currently, the pension fund has been restored and a pension reform is expected (similar to the health reform, whereby health insurance funds have already been established).
At present, the average pension accounts for one-third of the average wage level. Adverse factors are the ration between pensioners and working people, the low collection rate of social security payments and the relatively decreasing income levels.
The government has made a decision to introduce a three-pillar pension system as from the beginning of the year 2000. The underlying principle is “security through diversity”. The system will include the following elements:
1. Public mandatory pension system (providing a pension that will account for 40% to 45% of the wage or salary);
2. Additional mandatory pension system, providing a pension to each participant depending on the amount of his or her security contributions (thus another 15% to 20% of the wage or salary will be added). The longer the participation in the system and the better the investment of the resources, the larger the pension benefit;
3. Voluntary pension system, creating opportunities for participation in voluntary saving and investment pension schemes.
Of course, this will not solve all the problems but we hope that they will be substantially alleviated, especially in combination with the already existing health insurance system.
For the last two years, the government has organised a social relief system for poor and socially disadvantaged persons (especially energy support). We have received assistance from the European Union, too.
33. Article 82 — The army is a mechanism of strict subordination, fit and capable of fulfilling commands. Democratic principles are not applicable there and orders must be fulfilled. However, democratic civilian control is exercised over the armed forces. The Minister of Defence is a civilian in Bulgaria.
The Armed Forces Act has been passed by the democratically elected parliament. In this respect, the Bulgarian army is quickly modernising in order to achieve interoperability with the armies of the Nato member states.
At present, the law does not allow servicemen to be trade union members and to report to industrial action. But they may establish associations to undertake activities of common interest, while observing the following restrictions:
—as sociation is allowed only in peace times;—
—ac tivities have to be performed only separately from their service duties and beyond working hours;.—
—ac tivities may be performed only outside the army premises;—
—ac tivities may not impair the fighting trim, preparedness, discipline, and morale of the personnel, the established order and the chain of command in the armed forces;—
—ac tivities may not be related to the government defence policy, the fighting trim and preparedness, the mobilisation, the manning levels and the material resources of the detachments.Ci
Civilians recruited to the armed forces are not allowed by law to go on strike, although they have the right to establish trade union organisations or be trade union members.
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bulgaria is a signatory, make it possible to impose restrictions on the rights to association and trade union activities through the national legislation of the respective country with respect to the persons working in the armed forces (Article 8, paragraph 2 of the former document and Article 22, paragraph 2 of the latter document).
Therefore we believe that the relevant Bulgarian legislation does not contravene the international norms and regulations.
It must be emphasised that the material and social rights of servicemen are regulated imperatively in the existing legislation and they provide for a high social status of these persons.
Nato member states differ from one another in this respect. Some of them allow servicemen to establish associations on a professional basis, while others allow them to have trade union organisations with the respective regulations and constraints envisaged in their national legislation.
The Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Bulgaria is prepared to discuss these issues.
We would like to see the recommendations by the rapporteurs based on an international instrument in order to ensure Bulgaria's equal treatment with the other European countries in posing certain requirements in this sphere in the light of the process of approximation of legislation.
Guided by this understanding, we have enacted the law on the alternative military service. The term of conscription has been reduced to 12 months (which has served as an indirect solution of the problem of the bad treatment of young recruits by elder conscripts).
34. Articles 88-91 — these issues have already been covered earlier.
Here we can make the following additional points:
In accordance with the National Security Conception adopted by parliament, the activities of the Ministry of the Interior will improve along the following lines:
—de militarisation of the Ministry of the Interior (prisons, which have been transferred from the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Justice and Legal Euro-Integration, are already demilitarised);—
—st ringent civilian control over its operations;—
—re gulation of active co-operation and interaction of policemen with local governments;—
—in troduction of criteria for safeguarding the quality of police performance from the perspective of the requirement to have a police that is open and supportive to the public rather than force-based.Fo
For these purposes, amendments to the law on the Ministry of the Interior have been drafted in order to:
—ac hieve functional harmonisation of the project for consistency with the EC Law, including the set of legal principles for protection of all persons subject to any arrest or imprisonment (UN Resolution No. 43/1998) in view of the functions of police authorities in exercising their powers in the application of police arrest as a measure of coercion.Be
Besides, the main principles of the use of force and fire arms by law enforcement officials, as adopted by the 18th UN Congress of 1990 are included.
There is included also the annex to Resolution No. 34/169 of the UN General Assembly of 1979 on the code of conduct of law enforcement officials. The International Code of Conduct of Government Officials, as adopted by the 9th UN Congress of 1995, is included, too.
The bill pursues also the following objectives:
—to establish the legal framework of the modern administrative system to effectively defend the national security, to combat crime and to protect public order;—
—to enhance the confidence of individuals and businesses in the capability of the state to protect them against criminal encroachment.Th
The bill envisions that police authorities, in the course of their interaction with arrested persons, may not use force, unless this is necessary for the maintenance of security and public order or the protection of their personal inviolability or the inviolability of third parties. The use of weapons is seen as a measure of last resort only in the cases of direct or imminent threat to the life of policemen or third parties.
Policemen are required to take care of the life and physical condition of arrested persons and to respect their honour and dignity, as well as not to allow offending, discriminatory or arbitrary action, including physical or moral violence and proper attitude to the citizens whom they assist or defend.
Furthermore, the Ministry of the Interior has launched the initiative “Politeness, professionalism, respect” which is a new approach to the tasks and functions of the Bulgarian police.
35. Article 92 — in accordance with the principles of democracy, the elected majority has the right to implement its programme, as this is the desire of the majority of the citizens, who have cast their votes for it in free and fair elections. So the government elected by the parliamentary majority reflects the people's vote. In Bulgaria, the government enjoys the support of 137 out of 240 MPs, while the votes for major decisions exceed 150, which implies the support of part of the opposition as well.
The Bulgarian society was divided mainly with respect to the war in Yugoslavia. Civil demonstrations were organised in favour and against the decision of parliament to open up part of Bulgaria's air space for the purposes of the Allied Force operation. The media definitely stood in opposition to the government on that matter.
Most of the other important national decisions carry the votes of both the majority and the opposition or part of it. This comes to refute the rapporteurs' assertion, which reflects rather the opposition perspective. Over the last two years, part of the opposition campaign has invariably been to portend apolcalyptic events that never come.
The new government policy of integration of minorities and our willingness for co-operation with our neighbours have been cited as an example to the neighbouring countries personally by the President of the PACE, Lord Russell-Johnston, during the visit to the region in June 1999.
As to the recommendation for participation in the ADACS programmes, it was fulfilled as far back as 1998 and continued in 1999.
Besides, we hope that the Council of Europe will appreciate Bulgaria's stabilising role in the Balkans and the established good regional co-operation with the south-eastern European countries, including the launch of joint initiatives with regard to the crisis in Kosovo, the establishment of joint rapid deployment force units, joint economic projects, etc.
In this sense, we would expect the wording of Section 98 to be even more definite in the conclusion that Bulgaria is a stable democracy.
36. Article 99.a — as stated by the secretariat, this recommendation can be fulfilled only after the confidentiality of the report is lifted.
Article 99.b — this requirement has been fulfilled in the law on the civil service. The law on local elections will undergo only slight changes, which will be made available to the CLRAE.
Article 99.c — we accept the opinion of the Venice Commission, which is more specific than the proposed text.
Article 99.d — the new law on radio and television envisions the opportunity for broadcasts in the mother tongue. The exercise of this right is upcoming.
Article 99.e — district councils have already been established in pursuance of the provisions of the law on regional development. They include all mayors of municipalities within the district and one more representative elected by each municipal council.
Article 99.f — the rapporteurs have been briefed about the government's proposal. Still, we believe that ‘‘the reasonable amounts” of the penalty for slander and insult should be tantamount to a punishment rather than a fee and they have to produce preventive effect.
Article 99.g — we expect also the support of the Social Development Fund at the Council of Europe through financing of projects in the social reform process.
Article 99.h — fulfilled.
Article 99.i — we accept the recommendation. We are looking forward also to a recommendation to the other member states of the Council of Europe to co-operate with us in this sphere.
Article 99.j — we would very much like to see a recommendation by the rapporteurs to the political opposition for support of the reform process.
In closing, we wish to thank Mr David Atkinson and Mr Henning Gjellerod and the Secretaries Mr Guy Dufour and Ms Bonnie Theophilova for their efforts in the process of preparation of this preliminary draft report and to express our hope that our justified clarifications, notes and comments will be taken into consideration in the finalisation of the report.
Latchezar TOSHEV, MP
Chairman of the Bulgarian delegation
to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
Act for Amending the Judiciary Act
1. The bill was introduced by the Council of Ministers on 12 March 1998. Under the applicable constitutional law of the Republic of Bulgaria, all acts of parliament are discussed and adopted at two readings in plenary sessions, whereas every draft of a law is referred at first to the competent parliamentary committee(s) for deliberations, and then the bill is submitted to discussion and consideration in a plenary session. All standing parliamentary committees are specialised in specific subject matters and their composition is proportional to the strength of the various parliamentary groups.
The draft law on amending the Judiciary Act was referred to the Parliamentary Committee on the Judiciary and the Suppression of Corruption, which was designated a steering committee. The said committee deliberated the draft law in principle and came up with their opinion for the forthcoming discussions in the plenary hall.
When the Judiciary Committee concluded its deliberations and submitted its report, the bill was duly included in the legislative programme of the parliament.
2. The bill was passed at first reading in the plenary hall on 14 April 1998. The next phase in the routine process of legislation envisages that a bill should be returned to the steering committee whereto all member of parliament are entitled to present, in writing, their proposals for amending certain texts. Such written proposals, as well as the entire draft of a law, are then deliberated by the Steering Committee on a text by text basis.
The time-limit for presenting written proposals to amend the draft law on amending the Judiciary Act was extended by three weeks, that is until 22 May 1998 inclusive. Such time-limit covered the Easter recess as well.
3. All proposals put forward by members of parliament were gathered and deliberated by the Judiciary Committee. On 13 July 1998 the committee submitted its report concerning the bill's second reading. In this report the committee expressed its opinion about each provision of the draft law.
4. The second reading of the bill in the plenary hall started on 16 July 1998. Under the applicable constitutional law, at the second reading all bills are deliberated text by text.
Certain texts of the draft law on amending the Judiciary Act were put off for additional deliberations and particularisation.
5. Additional deliberations about the draft law were held in the Committee on the Judiciary on 18 September 1998, whereafter an additional report was presented concerning some put-off and imprecise provisions.
6. The Act for Amending the Judiciary Act was passed at second reading on 30 September 1998 and was then sent to the President to be promulgated and enacted.
7. The President expressed dissent and exercised a veto over certain provisions of the Act. On 15 October 1998 the President issued Decree No. 362, whereby he returned the Act for Amending the Judiciary Act to parliament for reconsideration.
8. The vetoed law was put to the vote again on 28 October 1998 and did not get the requisite majority. Thus the President's veto was not overridden. Thereafter the draft law on amending the Judiciary Act was treated in accordance with the applicable parliamentary law whereunder, in case a veto has been exercised over certain texts alone, the sanctioned portion of the vetoed bill is taken back to the preceding phase of the legislative process, that is, it becomes a draft law that has been passed at first reading.
A five-day time-limit was set for putting forth written proposals to amend the contested provisions, that is, until 2 November 1998. Such proposals were presented to the Steering Committee. The Judiciary Committee then deliberated the proposals and came up with a report respecting the second reading of all contested texts.
9. On 5 November 1998 all texts challenged by the President were passed in the plenary hall at second reading. Thereby the complete Act for Amending the Judiciary Act was definitely adopted.
10. The Act was promulgated in the Official State Gazette, Issue No. 133 of 1998.
11. Certain texts of the Act were challenged by referring them to the Constitutional Court for judicial review of their constitutionality. This resulted in the institution of Constitutional Case No. 34 of 1998. As a matter of fact, this case was the twenty-first lawsuit brought before the Constitutional Court since 1991 whereunder the court has reviewed and handed down rulings with regard to contested legal provisions governing various elements of the judicial branch of government, inclusive of the Supreme Judicial Council. It is worthy of note that in nineteen of all twenty-one cases the Constitutional Court's rulings were handed down within the period from 1992 to 1996, whereas only two cases were judicially reviewed in 1997 and 1998.
Under Case No. 34 of 1998 the Constitutional Court declared isolated provisions unconstitutional but rejected the claim as regards most of the challenged provisions.
Thus the full arsenal of constitutionally provided controlling mechanisms in the legislative process of the Republic of Bulgaria have been effectively exercised in respect of the Act for Amending the Judiciary Act.
12. The Act entered into force as of 15 November 1998.
Paragraph 81 provides that within two months of the Act's entry into force elections should be held to designate the members of the Supreme Judicial Council, thereby bringing this country's judiciary in unconditional conformity with the provisions of the Constitution.
A draft decision was submitted to the National Assembly on 7 December 1998 that eleven members, representing the National Assembly's quota as stipulated by the Constitution, should be elected to the Supreme Judicial Council. Such draft decision was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary and the Suppression of Corruption. On 10 December 1998 the Judiciary Committee presented its report concerning the draft decision, summarising therein all candidacies filed, the voting taken in the Committee on such candidacies and the eleven candidates nominated by the committee for election by the National Assembly.
On 11 December 1998 the National Assembly elected eleven members to the Supreme Judicial Council. Later one of them resigned. By the National Assembly's Decision of 12 February 1999, the resigned member was dismissed and a new member was elected to the Supreme Judicial Council to replace him. The quota elected by the National Assembly is now complete. The Supreme Judicial Council is operational.
This is the chronicle of an act of parliament, a summarised account of facts and events illustrative of a difficult and dynamic stage of the reform carried out in the judicial branch of government and at the same time — a stage of the development of Bulgarian constitutionalism.
The main guidelines of the Bulgarian Government policy concerning minority groups
The Republic of Bulgaria has ratified all basic international conventions concerning minority rights including UN Convention for Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.
A fundamentally new beginning was laid down in the state policy for the successful solution of various problems of the minority groups by Decree No. 449 of the Council of Ministers (December, 1997). That decree established the National Council for Ethnic and Demographic Issues (NCEDI) with the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Bulgaria. Deputy Prime Minister Mr Vesselin Metodiev chairs the Council and this guarantees direct relation with the government. The secretary of the Council — Mr Peter Atanassov is responsible for the organisation and implementation of the activities of the Council.
All ministries in Bulgaria are presented in the Council at vice-ministerial level, as well as four relevant governmental agencies (including the National Office for Refugees and the Agency for Bulgarians Abroad). Also members of the Council are representatives of NGOs of all the ethnic groups who traditionally live in Bulgaria: Turks, Tatars, Jews, Armenians, Karakachans, Wallachians and Roma people. All members of the Council have equal rights.
The National Council Standing Regulations provide that it is a body for consultation, co-operation and co-ordination between the government institutions and non-governmental organisations to design and implement the national policy with regard to ethnic and demographic issues and migration.
The participation of the representatives of the NGOs of the various minorities in the Council promotes and facilitates them to take part in the state management of issues that directly concern them.
The Council supports the best projects of the NGOs concerning the ethnic and demographic issues. The members of the Council reach agreements which they sign after consultations. These agreements are open, that is, other institutions and public organisations may join the agreed document.
The main functions of the Council according to the Standing Regulations are:
—pr otection and promotion of tolerance and understanding between Bulgarian citizens belonging to various ethnic and religious groups;—
—co -ordination with the government institutions and non-government organisations of specific measures to fulfil the obligations of the country on international conventions in the sphere of Bulgarian citizens rights who belong to minority groups and their integration in the society;—
—su pport for the contacts of the various ethnic groups with similar ones abroad;—
—ma intenance of contacts with similar governmental institutions abroad as well as international organisations with similar activities and spheres of interests;—
—su pport for the fulfilment of projects of great significance on national and regional level of NGOs in the sphere of ethnic relations;—
—di scussion and evaluation of draft legislation concerning the rights of Bulgarian citizens belonging to various ethnic groups.Th
The Council has existed for one year and even in this very short period it has solved many problems faced by the various ethnic groups. The most important of them we consider the already signed agreements with the Karakachans concerning the compensations for those deprived of their sheep during the communist period. Agreements were also reached with the Wallachians for starting work on a mutual basis with the Romanian colleagues on issues concerning Wallachian people and establishing a Bulgarian school in Bucharest and Romanian college in Sofia.
Within the context of the administrative and territorial reform taking place in Bulgaria at present, new regional administrations will be created. Their number will increase from nine to twenty-eight. With the aim of developing a modern regional policy the establishment of regional councils on ethnic and demographic issues is envisaged in the near future. They shall function by virtue of the Standing Regulation of the NCEDI in the relevant region. The Council will only co-ordinate the work of those twenty-eight councils on a local level. The responsibilities of these new units will be to conduct dialogue with the ethnic non-government organisations and in this way the ethnic groups will take part in the decision-making process on the local level as well as on national level.
In the 1990s Bulgarian citizens of Roma origin acquired the absolute right to a freedom to identify themselves as Romas and moreover to develop their own culture and integrate themselves into associations issuing their own publications.
As a result of all that various non-government organisations appeared including: the Roma Democratic Union, The Roma Unified Union, Confederation of the Romas in Bulgaria, Federation of the Unified Roma Communities, as well as the Roma Public Council “KUPATE” and others. Various newspapers and magasines are being published as for example: Romano ilo, Romano develti, Drom drumendar, Gitan, etc.
According to the data of the survey from December 1992 the number of the Roma people who live in Bulgaria is 313 396 (three hundred and thirteen thousand three hundred and ninety six) which is 3.7% of the total population of the country.
Bearing in mind the extremely difficult economic situation of the majority of the Roma people in Bulgaria who have already been marginalised the National Council made a step forward by developing a specific programme for their integration into society with the objective to provide conditions for the complete integration of the Roma people into society, respecting their legal rights and cultural distinctions.
That programme is being prepared together with the Roma organisations, in close collaboration with the Ethnic Relations Project and on the basis of Spanish and other countries' experience. Fundamentally the aim of the programme is to solve the most important problems of the Roma people: education, qualifications and employment, public health, accommodation (housing), respect to human rights, culture, Roma women and the elimination of prejudices. On 7 April 1999 on a national round table, the government and the representatives of the main Roma organisations in Bulgaria signed an agreement for “Framework programme for equal integration of Roma in the Bulgarian society”.
Through the mediation of the National Council on Ethnic and Demographic Issues with the Council of Ministers some framework agreements for a mutual activity were signed between the Roma non-government organisations and the government institutions.
Such agreements have been signed with the following ministries:
— Ministry of Defence: for the establishment of a council on ethnic issues, which shall consider problems on the multiethnical composition of the army, the full-time appointment of Romas at sites of the defence complex of the country, on providing conditions for the social adaptation of young Romas while serving in the army and providing a possibility that some cultural activities could be held among young Romas, doing their military service by Roma organisations.
— Ministry of Justice and Legal European Integration: for accomplishing a programme for the resocialisation of Roma people who are serving different sentences, for their integration into society and for the protection of the rights and freedoms of the individual and activities to improve the legal culture of the Roma people.
— Ministry of Trade and Tourism: for an assistance for offering real employment possibilities among the Roma people, in accordance with their education and qualification and in accordance with the main functions of the ministry. That will stimulate the enterprising activities of the Roma people which will contribute to the development of Roma people crafts and the creation of some alternative forms of employment.
— Ministry of Culture: to attract Roma experts to full-time employment with the objective of developing traditional Roma culture and to support the establishment of a Roma culture and information centre.
— Ministry of Ecology and Ministry of Labour and Social Policy together with Romas non-government organisations: for the implementation of projects for temporary employment of about 2 000 Roma people.
Through the mediation of some non-government organisations the National Council on Ethnic and Demographic Issues and the municipal authorities undertake a campaign for the adoption of programmes to work with Romas at municipal level.
In the Bulgarian Parliament in the list of the governing majority members of the parliament belonging to different minorities were included and elected among them the member of parliament Assen Hristov who is of Roma origin and an ex-mayor. Also a number of municipal councillors and mayors in various towns are of Roma origin. Some special programmes are being developed for attracting Roma people to army and police structures.
The co-operation between the government institutions and minorities is of great importance for the complete implementation of the guidelines of the Bulgarian government policy. The active presence of representatives of the various ethnic groups at all levels guarantees the realisation of the government policy concerning the problems of the minority groups.
In conclusion, despite the difficult economic situation in Bulgaria imposing financial and budget limits in the administration and state-owned enterprises, all administrative and political conditions are created for the active participation of the minorities, who traditionally live in Bulgaria in the decision-making processes on issues that concern them.
re: The dismissal of Visa Nedyalkova, Antoaneta Nenkova and Emil Ivanov from the Bulgarian National Radio (BNR), as quoted in Section 58, page 10 of the preliminary draft report on the honouring of obligations and commitments by Bulgaria - co-rapporteurs Mr D. Atkinson and Mr H. Gjellerod.
On 5 October 1998, the Management Board of Hristo Botev Station, Bulgarian National Radio examined the programme scheme of the Dobar Den (Good Day) programme for 9 October 1998.
Since the journalist Visa Nedyalkova used preliminary press publications to announce novelties in the programme (new heading, anchors, themes, reports, materials) that had never been applied for or approved, the Management Board voted not to allow Ms Visa Nedyalkova on air on 9 October 1998.
In violation of that decision of the Management Board, Antoaneta Nenkova, anchor of Dobar Den programme, and Emil Ivanov, editor in Hristo Botev Station, let Visa Nedyalkova on air and Antoaneta Nenkova handed the anchoring of the programme to Visa Nedyalkova. Thus the technological discipline, the programme co-ordination and the weekly schedule of Hristo Botev Station were grossly violated.
Those were the reasons for Mr Ivan Robanov and Ms Maria Popova, Acting General Director of Hristo Botev Station, to send a memo to the BNR Managing Director with a proposal for dismissal of the persons to blame.
On 12 October 1998, Mr Alexander Velev, General Director of the Bulgarian National Radio, issued an order on the dismissal of Antoaneta Nenkova, Visa Nedyalkova and Emil Ivanov as a disciplinary penalty with the following reasons:
— failure to observe the decision dated 5 October 1998 of the Management Board of Hristo Botev Station concerning the participation in the Dobar Den programme;
— violation of the programme co-ordination, which did not envision Visa Nedyalkova either as a guest or as an anchor;
— violation of Section 7 of the Rules of Hristo Botev Station which read that “‘Once approved or approved in principle, the contents, organisation and technology of the programme may be changed only with the instruction of the respective manager given in writing”.
All these facts come to reveal that the content of the Dobar Den programme was never discussed, assessed or criticised by the Management Board of Hristo Botev Station, Bulgarian National Radio. Therefore I find it absolutely unjustified to state in the draft report that the journalists were dismissed because of criticisms included in the programme.
As to the persons whom the programme mentioned and gave allegations against, they refuted those allegations in the press.
Furthermore, the foregoing violations of the discipline, programme co-ordination and technology are impermissible in any public national radio station in the EU member states and they are subject to very severe penalties everywhere.
(Signed) Ivan Ivanov
made by Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Mr Ivan Kostov, during the parliamentary control on 11 June 1999
Original Language: Bulgarian
The Speaker.— I give the floor to Prime Minister Ivan Kostov.
Prime Minister Ivan KOSTOV.— Thank you, Mr Speaker. Ladies and gentlemen members, Mr Draganov: The Democratic Forces government assumed its responsibilities in a situation of deep economic and financial crisis, made worse by a crime rate which threatened the entire national economy and national security. At that time, when Bulgarians were asked to rank their ten severest problems, they invariably cited crime as number one.
Throughout the economy, including banking and finance, criminal mechanisms were at work channelling public capital and household savings into parallel private entities. Bank loans were used to practically give away enormous amounts of unsecured funds, which precipitated the collapse of the banking system.
Tax control mechanisms, largely ineffective and only selectively enforced, provided incentives for under-reporting of income and tax evasion.
Ineffective border and customs controls allowed massive smuggling operations to the detriment of national interests and the community.
A voice from the Democratic Left.— Give us the name of one convicted criminal!
Prime Minister Ivan KOSTOV.— Corruption had struck deep roots within central, local, and law-enforcement institutions, and seriously hampered government regulation and control. Therefore, the fight against organised crime and corruption became a matter of top priority for this government and a key element of its overall policy.
The 1997-98 period saw the implementation of a package of legislative, economic and administrative measures designed to cripple the economic might of organised crime, destroy its organisational structures and thwart any further attempts by criminal groups at feeding on the national economy by resorting to illegal activities and the corruption of central and local officials.
With a view to effectively combating crime the government made use of its right of legislative initiative along two lines:
1. Rapid amendments to the legal framework affecting both criminal law and procedure, and the economic sphere, where due to the absence of detailed provisions, organised crime had established illicit financial arrangements;
2. The institutional strengthening of the various law-enforcement authorities.
At the end of 1997, the National Assembly passed a resolution on measures for combating organised crime and corruption. In pursuance of the resolution, on 16 July 1998, the government adopted its General National Strategy Against Crime.
Fourteen acts of parliament of direct effect on organised crime and corruption were passed. The government introduced the Act Constituting an Amendment to the Criminal Code which was enacted by this Assembly in August 1997. The amendments, in addition to providing more severe punishment for some offences typical of the transition period, included, for the first time in our criminal law, definitions of such offences as the extortion of protection money and money laundering.
Further, definitions were provided of some special types of offence related to taxation and the financial system; drug trafficking, arms and human trafficking; terrorism; crimes against intellectual property.
Another new development was the definition of the term Mafia-type organisation, with the appropriate punishment for organising and membership in such entities.
Opportunities for expediting criminal prosecutions were created by the abolition of the concept of continuous crime.
In addition to these amendments, the government initiated the amendment of the Insurance Act which dealt a heavy blow to the economic positions of extortionist groups.
The 1999 Amendment to the Criminal Code criminalised certain special cases of corruption in line with the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.
On the government's initiative, this Assembly passed the Money Laundering Act; the Narcotic Substances and Precursors Control Act; and a package of enactments aimed at combating crime in the financial and banking system, the tax system, the customs control system and gambling.
This country now has a new Customs Act, and the detailed rules for its application, which has marked a quantum leap froward in the protection of our national border.
The government has also introduced to your attention the draft of a code of tax procedure, the adoption of which will complete the development of the tax system, the tax administration, and the tax procedure.
In parallel with these efforts, measures were taken to insure the institutional strengthening of all authorities involved in combating crime. The Ministry of Home Affairs streamlined its units and functions, improving overall co-ordination and interaction. The National Service for Combating Organised Crime went through structural and functional reorganisation which resulted in more precise functional definitions and the elimination of duplication and overlapping with other MoHA Services. The National Border Guard was reorganised into a Special Security and Detective Police Force for the protection of the national border and the enforcement of the border control regime.
In pursuance of the arrangements under the Europe Agreement in the field of home affairs, active international co-operation took place for integration into international structures for combating cross-border crime and interaction with the law enforcement authorities of EU member states.
Bilateral and multilateral treaties, agreements and protocols on co-operation in combating crime were signed with, among others, the United States of America, Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Austria, China, India, Russia and Macedonia.
The existing co-operation with the Balkan countries was expanded. An intergovernmental agreement was signed with Turkey and Romania, and a trilateral co-operation protocol with Greece and Romania on combating organised and cross-border crime.
The entry into force of the new customs control legislation and the resulting enhanced enforcement measures substantially limited the opportunities for corruption and other illicit activity. Over the last two years, action has been taken against eighty-one customs officers.
The government was confronted with greatest difficulties in the implementation of the judicial reform. It goes without saying that the fight against crime cannot be effective in the absence of a strong judiciary conducting a consistent and uncompromising penal policy.
In the summer of 1998, a bill of amendment to the Judiciary Act was introduced before this Assembly with the sole objective of bringing the structure of the judicial system into line with the Bulgarian Constitution and European standards. Despite the general opinion that the deficiencies in the judiciary's structure, its human resource problems, inadequate training and low integrity were all impediments to the effective fight against crime, the opposition, and in particular, the parliamentary party of the European Left interpreted the bill as an attempt at gross interference by the executive with the affairs of the judiciary.
Thus, at the session on 16 July 1998, Ivan Boikov read a declaration on behalf of the European Left stating that the group was not going to participate in the vote on the bill, and their MPs acted accordingly. Bearing in mind their avowed support for the required reform of the judicial system, that position of the European Left was rather puzzling.
The atmosphere of confrontation notwithstanding, the reform of the judiciary was carried through. As a result of the amendments, the public prosecution authority was brought into line with the relevant constitutional provisions and the modern standards in criminal justice. The functions of prosecution and investigation were separated. In keeping with the European Convention on Human Rights, the powers of the public prosecution authority to institute and terminate criminal proceedings were placed under judicial review.
The system of investigation authorities was improved. The centralised direction of these services was abolished in order to ensure their independence. The decentralisation resulted in capabilities for direct crime monitoring at the local community level and hence, greater effectiveness of anti-crime efforts. The Special Investigation Service was created, staffed with investigators of long professional experience, to deal with particularly grave offences and organised crime.
The 1998 amendments to the Judiciary Act also improved the procedures relating to disciplinary action. The Minister of Justice and European Legal Integration was given powers to advise on the institution of disciplinary proceedings against judges, prosecutors and investigation officers, and, in certain circumstances, draw the attention of magistrates to irregularities or deficiencies in their work.
All of the above changes were fully consistent with the Constitution and the relevant European standards, which was subsequently confirmed by the Constitutional Court and the Venice Commission.
As soon as the new High Judicial Council and the newly-appointed Chief Public Prosecutor assumed their functions, the public received ample evidence to account for the opposition's vehement attack on the proposed reform. The changes were opposed only because without them, the judiciary could still be used as a vehicle to cover up crimes, rather than administer justice.
I am aware of the findings of the inspection carried out at the High Appellate Prosecution Authority and of the inspection concerning the progress of cases at the former National Investigation Service. Hundreds of proceedings on heavy criminal offences were lying dormant, and sixty-seven case files had amazingly gone missing from the prosecution authority. How, given this state of affairs, can the fight against crime be truly effective? Furthermore, it turned out that the Head of the Investigation Service, so fiercely defended by you, the European Left, had actually lied in his report on police brutality. On top of that, he obstructed criminal proceedings against his cronies, while in other cases, he made his subordinates press unfounded charges. Do I take it that you knew about the practice of “paid” investigations but chose to say nothing?!
Using his powers, the Minister of Justice and European Legal Integration informed the High Judicial Council about the findings of the inspection at the Special Investigation Service. The Director of the Service had not taken the necessary measures to bring it into organisational and functional conformity and to remove the deficiencies characteristic of the former National Investigation Service. This gave reason to the minister to advise the High Judicial Council that the Director of the Service should be demoted to investigation officer.
Public prosecution authorities have become more vigorous. It is our sincere hope that the Chief Public Prosecutor will cause proceedings to commence on all reported cases and will see to it that the proceeding on such notorious ones as that of the illegal drugs laboratory in Opitsvet and of the wheat-for-oil barter are carried through to completion. This, incidentally, was not either to the opposition's liking — one more reason for it to oppose the reform.
Reported cases of extortion by European Left MPs are being inquired into, together with their alleged involvement in an organised network for the theft and purchase of stolen metals. Evidence has been gathered implicating a left-wing MP in the affair of the bogus sick-leave card issued to Public Prosecutor Mihail Doichev.
An inquiry is being conducted also into your own personal relatedness, Mr Draganov, to certain privatisation funds and particularly, your interest in the privatisation of the Elenite resort complex.
Apparently, you attitude to corruption could be defined like this: you are dead against any racket which does not benefit you, and the worst enemy of corruption from which you have nothing to gain. [Applause from the UDF.]
The reality of the matter is that the government's efforts have yielded visible results in the fight against crime. The activities of the criminal groups, which emerged during the 1990-96 period, have been dramatically reduced. Significant progress has been achieved in narrowing the scope of the shadow economy controlled by organised crime. The channels and mechanisms have been destroyed on which criminal business relied for the smuggling and illegal trade in alcohol, fuels, sugar, pirated compact discs.
In 1998, the illegal manufacture of compact discs in this country was practically eliminated, which resulted in Bulgaria's removal from the list Special 301 of countries offending against copyright.
The racketeering of medium and small businesses by criminal groups has been suppressed. The practice of forcing businesses into unfair contracts for security services is now virtually non-existent. The insurance companies which were based on the proceeds of crime have been eliminated from the insurance market.
Criminal groups have been largely deprived of opportunities to profit from their control over the shadow economy, drugs distribution, gambling, and illegal migration, and from any joint operations with transnational organised crime.
Crime in general has declined sharply. The number of reported criminal offences in 1998 was 34.5% down from 1997. On the other hand, the detection rate in 1998 was 56.9% from 45.6% in 1997. The decline has continued into the current year. For the first five months of 1999, crime has declined by 18.3%, while the detection rate has gone up 9.6 percentage points.
I must mention specially the progress achieved by the investigation of former Prime Minister Loukanov's assassination. The arrests made and other action in the course of the investigation, which is under the direct supervision of the new Chief Public Prosecutor, have given us reason to believe that it will not be long before both the perpetrators and the instigators of that crime are brought to justice. [Applause from the UDF.]
Naturally, if the fight against crime is to be effective, criminals must be caught, but they must also be punished quickly. To this end, the government introduced before this Assembly a bill of amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure. The proposed amendments aim directly at shortening the time between crime and punishment, while maximum safeguards are provided for human rights in the spirit of the European Convention on Human Rights.
There must be no doubt in anyone's mind that the effectiveness of combating crime largely depends on the efficiency of the judicial system. If the government's measures are to yield further results, the criminals and the corrupt officials must receive swift punishment.
Once all the legal conditions for the institutional strengthening of the judicial system are in place, our expectations are that it will rapidly implement the reform in practice, will shed all forms of incompetence and corruption, and will thereby regain the public's confidence. The success of our fight against crime and corruption depends on the joint efforts of the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary.
By this, I do not mean to say at all that the government is done with its own work and devolves all further responsibility for combating crime to the judiciary. The government intends to persist in the implementation of the entire set of measures within the framework of the General Strategy. These include all social work and economic measures for the prevention of conventional crime and, in particular, juvenile delinquency. And we will continue to fight corruption in all spheres of public life.
The right conditions are also being created for the successful introduction of police investigation pursuant to the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure.
The government's priority is the development of a highly professional and competent police force, modelled on European standards, open to the community and mindful of its problems.
Work is also ahead on the development of a single information support system for combating crime and the establishment of a public register of the wealth and income of senior state officials.
The procedure needs to be speeded up for the adoption of legislation against crimes and irregularities in the financial area in order to bring to justice those who have enriched themselves unlawfully.
The government is aware of the threat of smuggling channels and other criminal activity re-emerging in the context of the Kosovo crisis and the related trade embargoes against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. [Loud noise among opposition MPs.]
The Speaker.— Order!
Prime Minister Ivan KOSTOV.— Rapid and rigorous measures have been taken to prevent such developments.
Finally, I wish to emphasise that whatever obstacles the opposition may devise, the government is intent on persevering, throughout the rest of its term in office, in its efforts to defeat crime and corruption once and for all. As to our record so far, you are best referred to the assessments made by international institutions.
I therefore wish to recall a passage from the report of the European Commission published at the end of 1998, concerning Bulgaria's achievements in the field of justice and home affairs. Quote: “Bulgaria has made laudable progress in the implementation of the short-term priorities in the Partnership for Accession framework.”
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
[Applause from the majority].
Standpoint of the Parliamentary Group of the Union for National Salvation
Regarding: the report for the Republic of Bulgaria's keeping her obligations and undertakings as a member country of the PACE
Dear Mr Atkinson and Dear Mr Gjellerod,
The Parliamentary Group of the Union for National Salvation (PGUNS) got acquainted with and carefully considered the Second Informative Report about the Republic of Bulgaria's keeping her obligations and undertakings as a member country of PACE. It is our opinion that the report presents a true picture of the actual state of the democratic processes taking place in the country. In it, both the positive changes that took place after your two visits (in December 1997, and in June 1998) and the anxiety-causing problems still waiting to be solved, are reflected.
It is beyond doubt that the most significant recent positive fact was the ratification by the Bulgarian Parliament of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in February 1999. Irrespective of it, PGUNS is somewhat anxious that, be the convention not applied in practice, the act of its ratification will be to no effect.
I. We regret to ascertain that, four months following the ratification, the remarks from the former standpoint of PGUNS (dated 8 February 1999) concerning the rights of the minorities in the Republic of Bulgaria, are still topical, namely:
1. The problems for studying the minority language has not been solved yet. As it is said in item 64 of your report, the furtive restriction of the constitutional right under Article 36, item 2, still persists.
2. In the above mentioned item 64, you note that “the public television broadcasts in the minorities languages are extremely insufficient”. The truth is that there are no such broadcasts at all, and that no steps as to the forthcoming solution of this problem have been made.
3. The manifestations of intolerance and xenophobia still persist, especially towards the Roma minority.
4. The vicious practice of paid-for court restoration of the names of the Bulgarian citizens who suffered the so-called regeneration process, still persists.
5. The lack of minorities' representatives in the higher executive authority, including the forceful structures such as police, army, court, prosecutor's office, as well as the Bulgarian diplomatic agencies abroad, can be characterised as a concealed form of discrimination which is in contrast with the idea of the minorities' integration in the free civil society.
6. The status of the minorities representatives, especially in the regions with mixed population, is inequivalent — among them, unemployment ranks highest and the standard of living ranks lowest.
The government is strongly to blame for not doing what is needed to direct investments to the ethnically mixed regions for the purpose of overcoming the social economic disbalance, thus providing the most solid warranty of stability.
The conclusion becomes apparent that the minorities' unsolved ethnic-cultural problems, as well as their inequal social-economic status constitute the major risks for the Bulgarian model of solving the ethnic problems.
II. Referring to the freedom of consciousness and religion, the media, the state-civil society relationships, and the juridical authority (see standpoint of PGUNS from 8 February 1999).
III. Local self-government and the forthcoming local elections.
Notwithstanding the fact that in the former standpoint, PGUNS already presented in detail its critical remarks on this problem, accounting for its exclusive significance, we deem it necessary to draw once more your attention to some of its peculiarities.
Unfortunately, the four-month long activity of the new regional governors, constituted by the Act for the Administrative and Territorial Organisation of the Republic of Bulgaria, confirmed our apprehensions of a policy of authority supercentralisation aimed at restriction of the constitution-provided local authority commissions.
The Act for the Administrative and Territorial Organisation of the Republic of Bulgaria and the Act for the Local Self-Government and Local Administration, passed by the votes of the majority alone, made out of the regional governors the only executors of power whereas in the established local councils for regional development, the local organs are present without the right to vote. This contradicts the recommendations of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe of the Council of Europe as the establishment of a second level of local self-government, an option provided for by the Bulgarian Constitution. All this lays the prerequisites for the regional governors, especially in some regions (Kardjali) to turn into party functioneers, and for the regional management — into party headquarters.
The intention of the Union of the Democratic Forces (UDF), not to be supported even by their coalition partners, as to changes in the Act for Local Self-Government and Local Administration and the Act for Election of the Local Organs, namely for substituting the principle of election of the settlements' mayors by the principle of their appointment and reduction of the total number of advisors by 50%, jeopardises the established fundamental democratic principles. By these changes, the actual participation of the public in the election of local organs, as well as in the taking of local character decisions will be restricted.
It should be noted that these changes are going to affect mostly the ethnically mixed regions, especially the mountain and semi-mountain ones, inhabited primarily by ethnic Turks, since 80% will be deprived of their constitutional right to elect mayors and councillors of their own, as well as to be elected themselves.
As a result, the territory of civil society will be restricted at the expense of authority and control's supercentralisation. For this reason, we support the idea shared by you in item 69 as to the need of observation by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe during the local elections in October 1999.
IV. The ruling majority-opposition relationships.
We are anxious to state that, as a result of the forceful manner of the imposing of acts and control, the negative tendency for deterioration of the relations between those ruling and the opposition becomes more apparent. As you have put it in item 92, this results in the split of Bulgarian society and interruption of the dialogue between the ruling majority and the opposition (item 93). Prerequisites are laid for unstable law and lack of continuity, all this ending in failure to perform the processes of economic reforms and public democratisation quickly and successfully.
Chairman of PGUNS
by the Parliamentarian Group of the Democratic Left
on the report of MM. D.Atkinson and H.Gjellerod — PACE
The legislative and practical steps of the government continue to limit the autonomy of the municipalities and the local self-government. After the proposals of the Democratic Left and the Bulgarian Euroleft for a financial decentralisation (a law on the budget of the municipalities) were turned down, new obligations were defined in a number of laws and related acts with no available resources for their enactment.
A considerable part of the legislation is not in conformity with the principles and requirements of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. The budgets of the overwhelming number of municipalities were adopted with big deficits. The expected incomes are substantially lower in comparison with the legally defined expenditures. Due to a number of objective and subjective reasons they are not implemented, especially in municipalities which are affected by the structural reform. The Regional Development Act which deals mainly with the administration of procedures for regional development is practically non-operative. Moreover, the law is arbitrarily used to stimulate municipalities and solve problems on the basis of narrow party criteria and approaches. There are cases when proposed regional projects are not considered by the regional governor, while others are given to mayor-runners from the ruling party despite of the fact that the said projects are property of concrete municipalities.
The rude intrusion into the work of democratically elected organs of local self-government by the politically appointed twenty-eight regional governors has become a common practice.
The adoption, as late as the end of July, of the amendments to the laws on municipal elections and on local self-government and local administration was substantially and deliberately delayed so that no time was left to contest the new texts which put serious limitations to:
1. The right to directly elect mayors of municipalities, mayors of town districts and district councillors (in towns with district division). It is envisaged that no direct elections are held in villages with population up to 500 inhabitants. The mayor will be appointed by the municipal council by way of indirect election. Such indirect elections will be held also for mayors of town districts. No more district councillors will be elected in Sofia, Plovdiv and Varna. In this way the universal suffrage as a cornerstone of democracy in local power is restricted. More than 2.4 million people living in the districts of big towns and in small villages within the municipalities are deprived of the right to directly elect their representatives. The number of municipal councillors is drastically reduced.
2. The electoral activity of the people by way of introducing a number of procedural difficulties. The uniform bulletin for the candidates for municipal councillors and mayors, by its graphic design, will confuse a large circle of electors, first of all the elderly and those with low level of education. The decision to inscribe in the bulletin for municipal councillors only the names of the parties and not the names of the candidates themselves is setting up a negative precedent. There will be difficulties with the counting of the bulletins as well. Many of them may turn out or be declared invalid. Tremendous legislative prerequisites are thus created for falsification and manipulation of the electoral results which may compromise the local elections as a whole.
All opposition forces supported the proposal of the PGDL and the PGEL to introduce a second level of local government by establishing a regional council composed of directly elected regional councillors.
Despite our requests, the government bluntly ignored the recommendation of the rapporteurs to take into account the comments of Council of Europe experts when adopting new law concerning local elections.
The Democratic Left accepts the conclusions of the report concerning the amendments to the Judicial System Act adopted by the National Assembly. The concerns of the rapporteurs proved to be justified. The newly-elected Chief Prosecutor demanded his deputies and other unsubstitutable prosecutors to resign. After strong pressure was exerted, he obtained the resignations of his deputies and levied the execution of their functions on other magistrates without referring the matter to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC). A new practice of downgrading unsubstitutable high magistrates to the lowest level of the judicial hierarchy was introduced in the new SJC.
Misusing his new powers over the staff of the judicial system, the Minister of Justice and Legal Euro-integration submitted a proposal to the SJC to downgrade the Director of the Specialised Investigation Service (SIS) Mr Boyko Rashkov to the rank of ordinary investigating magistrate. In connection with this proposal, the Minister of the Interior Mr Bogomil Bonev sent to the SJC a memo containing accusations against the director for activities which could be construed as “conflict of interests” (unofficial contacts with a person who is the subject of an investigation). These activities were allegedly revealed through investigation and “special intelligence means” ( telephone tapping in this case). The Minister of Justice refused to order an examination of the “evidence” collected in contravention of the legal procedures. The SJC conducted an investigation of its own which proved beyond any doubt that the allegations were unfounded. From its part, the Ministry of the Interior could not prove its assertions, did not submit magnetic tapes with conversations between Mr Rashkov and the person under investigation but only four lines of typed text. This gave rise to well grounded suspicions that, as a matter of fact, the eavesdropping was aimed at the magistrate himself. Despite the public scandal the Prime Minister refused to take any measures whatsoever against the Minister of Justice and the Minister of the Interior for their intrusion into the work of the judiciary and the misuse of special intelligence means. Instead, from the rostrum of the National Assembly, the Prime Minister himself repeated the allegations against the Director of the SIS.
A second attempt to propose the lifting of magistrate immunity followed. In the process of inquiry it turned out again that special intelligence means were used without the sanction of the court, as required by law. The common thing in both cases was that, though a secret ballot was taken, the number of votes in favour of lifting immunity miraculously coincided with the number of members of SJC from the parliamentarian quota.
There is enough basis for conclusion that the real criminals are not persecuted when they stem from the higher circles of power. A bright example in this direction is the termination of the investigation of the “Sapio” case.
The adopted amendments to the Criminal Procedural Code (CPC) introduce police investigation for around 70% of the committed crimes. This kind of investigation will be carried out by police officers (out of the circle of the magistrates from the judicial power) appointed by the Minister of the Interior.
The offences to be investigated by policemen include a number of economic crimes committed by way of public service misdemeanour. In those cases, the investigation carried out by Ministry of the Interior's employees could well be used to cover corruption in the ruling circles. The police officers are also entrusted with the investigation of crimes against suffrage and of passive bribery of public officials, while active bribery is investigated by a magistrate. A year ago the ruling majority, with a motive to forestall corruption, voted amendments which limited the rights of the prosecution. With the new changes in the CPC the prosecutors' functions are restored and concentrated solely with the Chief Prosecutor.
Despite the insistence of the opposition, the report of the ex-Chief Prosecutor Mr Ivan Tatarchev and the Director of the Investigation Service Mr Boyko Rashkov on police violence against persons held in custody was never debated by the National Assembly or at least by its Commission on Human Rights. Instead, the Prime Minister, the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of Justice reprehended Mr Rashkov for the preparation of the report which motivated to a great extent the attacks against him noted above.
By way of arbitrary police acts are violated citizens' rights, confiscation of passports for travelling abroad, impeded access to check-points, ill-organised customs and border services. There are signals for police intrusion in civil-law cases.
Concerning the remark that the PGDL has not supported the ratification of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, we would like to draw attention to the fact that our group submitted and voted for a draft interpreting declaration with the following contents:
“Confirming its devotion to the values of the Council of Europe and the will for integration of Bulgaria in the European Union,Ad
Adhering to a policy of respect for the ethnic and religious identity of the different communities and of their fuller integration into the democratic processes in the Bulgarian society,
Regarding the ratification as an act of solidarity with the goals and principles of the framework convention,
The National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria declares:
1. The principles of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities shall be applied by the Bulgarian authorities in accordance with the national legislation of the Republic of Bulgaria vis-à-vis the nationals belonging to ethnic communities which traditionally live in the country.
2. The ratification and implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities shall not give right to activities which violate the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of the Bulgarian state, its domestic and international security.”
The social policy of the official Bulgarian authorities is characterised first and foremost by a hasty introduction of new legislation not tailored to the economic realities in the country. As a result, people are robbed of a great part of their social gains and rights. The living standard of all generation and qualification groups continues to decline rapidly. The overall income of a member of a household is below BGL 100, while the estimated minimal living expenses are some BGL 226. The amount of the main payments in US dollars equivalent has been reduced: from 106.9 in May 1996 down to 102.9 in May 1999 for the average monthly salary and, respectively, from 34.4 to 33.0 for the average pension and from 6.1 to 4.6 for the child allowances.
The increase in food consumption expenditure is extremely high — 48% for 1998 even according to official data. For one year only (1997-98), healthcare expenditures in the structure of the budget of a household raised with 5.7% and those for electricity, heating and energy supply — with 10%.
As far as social security is concerned, eighty-one retired persons depend on 100 workers, while the employment rate is barely 35% of the population. Only for
two-and-a-half years, the index of employment has fallen from 44.7% to 42.4% and even below 38% in some regions. It should be noted in this connection that the official authorities are not willing to disclose the real level of unemployment in the country. In fact, 71.3% of those registered as unemployed do not receive compensations, 32.7% are staying on the labour market for more than a year, 30.9% of the unemployed are young people, the job vacancies are only 2.3% of the official number of the unemployed. A matter of particular concern is the steady growth of unemployment. A matter of particular concern is the steady growth of unemployment among people with high and middle-level qualifications — over 15% of the total number. Compared to May 1998, the level of unemployment in May 1999 is 0.9 points higher. For the same period, the total number of people registered as unemployed raised with 7.5%, those who have been registered more than twice — with 23% and those who have been discharged from different sectors of the national economy — with 55.1%. At the same time, the number of vacancy announcements is 3.7% lower and the financial means allotted to social protection and employment development decreased proportionally by 0.2 points.
There is an acute pressure on the labour market where a considerable differentiation among the regions is observed. For instance, by June 1999 the level of unemployment was 3.45% in Sofia, 24,66% in Turgovishte region, 23.71% in Vidin region, 22.51% in Montana region, etc. Particularly disturbing is the fact that places where ethnically mixed populations live (Ardino, Yakoruda, Kirkovo, Isperih, Artchar, etc.) are confronted with an unemployment rate of more than 55%. The labour market is practically non-existent, there is a lack of effective national and regional programmes for employment, of a policy of promotion of small and medium-size business, of investments which should help to soften the burden of unemployment, of institutions able to manage and not only to register the process.
The index of human development in Bulgaria is on a steep fall. The governing authorities are discouraging social activity. By misusing the labour legislation and massively introducing short-term (very often three-months and even one-month) work contracts, they forge subordination and fear in the workers' community and society as a whole.
Freedom of the media
The rapporteurs have rightly pointed out to several dubious trends in this sphere. The newly adopted Radio and Television Act effectively ensured a net 9:0 dominance in the National Radio and Television Council (NRTC). As for the new Law on Telecommunications, a state-controlled rather than an independent body was empowered to grant and to revoke licences for radio and television broadcasts. The implementation of the aforementioned laws ensures total governmental control over the electronic media. The situation was additionally complicated by some decisions of the Constitutional Court. The judges found it “normal and democratic” that radio and TV licences under the Law on Telecommunications are delivered by the government. Even more astonishing is the ruling of the court with respect of the Radio and Television Act. In the last few years the Constitutional Court took several decisions which defined clearly and categorically the constitutional requirements in this area. Its last rulings however are at variance with the previous ones. The same legislative ideas and texts which were declared non-conformant with the Constitution at the time when the Democratic Left was in power, are now found quite agreeable under the UDF rule. This raises some doubts about the independent character of the court's decision making.
The rapporteurs were correct to observe that the members of the NRTC do not sympathise with the opposition. The monitoring of the political balance in national radio and television broadcasts amply testifies to this. Curiously enough, the Bulgarian Socialist Party emerges as a media "champion" in accordance with the said monitoring. The endless appearances of the Prime Minister are not counted against the time allotted to its party — the UDF, whose leader he actually is. The media presence of the President, nominated again by the same party, is also not accounted for in the statistics.
The new Director General of the Bulgarian national television Ms L. Popova undertook massive dismissals of personnel in violation of the labour legislation. This provoked the fierce reaction of the trade unions. Furthermore, she did not comply with the stipulations of Article 62 of the Radio and Television Act concerning the adoption, within six months upon entry in force of the law, of rules governing the functioning and the structure of the national television, of a structure and job descriptions of the staff, etc.
The government has not abandoned its idea to grant licences to Internet servers. Accordingly, the problem of ensuring the freedom of information is still in the focus of public attention. The printing of "Duma" — the daily newspapers of the major opposition party (the BSP) — was interrupted once more. This was officially explained with arrears in payments but such arrears, and even bigger ones, have also other newspapers which were not put to a standstill. The actions of the government in this respect are clearly of a political nature.
As a whole, after the last visit of the rapporteurs in Bulgaria, the situation in the media field deteriorated seriously. Practically all media in the country are under the control not simply of the UDF but of the Prime Minister personally.
Purges in the administration.
The continuing policy of dismissals of civil servants and chief executives of companies has been brought to the extreme. After the political purges of people presumed to be affiliated with the Socialist Party, dismissals of members of other opposition parties and even of opponents within the ruling party and coalition were undertaken. Overt pressure and extortion are applied in order to obtain “voluntary” resignations. The practice of introducing temporary contracts in order to make them redundant and “lawfully” dismiss staff is prevailing now. Many striking examples can be found in the National Centre for Social Care, the Bulgarian national television, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a great number of state-owned companies and enterprises. A new personnel without the necessary professional and managerial experience and, in many cases, without a proper education, but “politically correct”, is being employed. This is one of the principal reasons for the malfunctioning of the administration at all levels, the creeping corruption and the growing divide within society.
This tendency of degrading professional and moral integrity of the state administration seems to be accurately sensed by the rapporteurs. It may be added in this connection that corruption in the sphere of privatisation is on the increase, transparent and fair market procedures are still lacking. The excessive centralisation of power prevents public control over decision making and strengthens inadmissibly the administrative grip on the economy.
Some provisions of the draft laws on the administration and the civil service ought to be reconsidered following the intervention of the President. These are however mainly technical in nature and of secondary importance. The principal defects of the said laws remain intact — the creation of a politically biased state administration and the abatement of the working and social rights and security of the civil servants.
In spite of the findings and recommendations of the rapporteurs, the dismissals in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are continuing. The “mechanism” of temporary work contracts is used for this purpose. A new wave of experienced diplomats and administrative staff were sacked in the last few months upon expiration of their contracts and cannot, under the existing legislation, lodge a complaint in court. They are being replaced by politically loyal or otherwise connected to the government employees. Posted abroad are mostly people without diplomatic training and experience who are directly designated by the UDF Party structures.
There are sound reasons to believe that the entry into force of the laws on the administration and the civil servants, as well as the introduction of a new structure of the Foreign Ministry and a new national classification of the civil servants, will be used by the government as a formal pretext to launch a new campaign of dismissals in the diplomatic service.
In conclusion, the Parliamentary Group of the Democratic Left would like to stress that the main critical observations contained in the second report of MM. Atkinson and Gjellerod are fair and accurate. Regrettably, the ruling majority did not manifest a will to reconsider its political behaviour in accordance with the recommendations of the report. On the contrary, the negative trends in many, if not all, areas of concern outlined in the report still persist.
We hold the view that the problems of crucial importance for the democratic development of Bulgaria which are the subject of the monitoring carried out by the PACE have not yet found their solution. We believe that, after ten years of transition, the principal objective of the monitoring is, by applying the instruments and procedures of the Council of Europe, to finally overcome the confrontation in the country and to create a society which is truly and firmly based on the fundamental European norms and values.
President of the Parliamentary Group
of the Democratic Left
of the Parliamentary Group of the European Left in Bulgaria
with reference to the last version of the report on Bulgaria of the
Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by
Member States of the Council of Europe
The report strikes a fair balance between the positive developments and the areas of concern. Since the purpose of the monitoring procedure is to improve the situation in the country, we shall concentrate on the areas of concern in the hope that the monitoring process itself and the forthcoming recommendations will help improve the situation in each of them.
The major problem is the discrepancy between formal or declared democracy and democratic practices. As evidenced by the Bulgarian case, as well as by other country cases in the region, the fall of communism did not automatically lead to democracy. Formal democratic norms are in place but democratic practice leaves much to be desired. It should be noted here that all positive developments described in the report have to do mostly with the formal elements of democracy rather than with the actual exercise of power. There has been no sign of devolution of power and power-sharing with the public sphere. On the contrary, as pointed out in our non-paper dated 27 January 1999, the party leadership of the UDF aims at a total control over the public sphere. The situation has even become worse since early 1999. What we have now in Bulgaria is "democratura". This statement can be traced down to a number of areas.
The situation remains as described in the non-paper of January 1999. It can only be added that the new director of the National TV, who was nominated by the UDF-elected National Radio and TV Council, has now proceeded to a long-delayed reform of the institution. The reform is imperative and can hardly provoke any objections as a matter of principle but the manner in which it is implemented raises concern that it is used as a guise to dismiss experienced journalists and replace them with less experienced but loyal ones. News and current affairs programmes are entirely modeled to suit the government. The participation of the opposition is limited to scarce and formal appearances. New pieces of legislation are usually presented to the public only by majority representatives, which a priori eliminates a different point of view.
The Supreme Administrative Court suspended the decision of the Post and Telecommunications Committee of 28 December 1998, which prescribed the obligatory licensing of Internet providers. The problem has emerged anew with the attempt of the Chairman of the State Commission on Telecommunications, Mr Vesselin Stoykov, to withhold from the Court and from the public the contents of his letter addressed to the rapporteurs of the Monitoring Committee. The letter is supposed to contain incorrect information aimed at justifying and giving plausible excuses for the licensing.
More than once concern has been expressed about the enhanced powers the Minister of Justice and Legal Euro-Integration was granted with the amendments to the Judiciary Act of 30 September 1998 as was pointed out in paragraph 43 of the Report on the honouring of Bulgaria's commitments as a member of the Council of Europe. And, indeed, these new powers were immediately used. In June 1999 the minister demanded from the Supreme Judiciary Council the dismissal of the Director of the Specialised Investigation Agency (SIA), Mr Boyko Rashkov, and has thus taken away the functions of the Prosecutor General.
New amendments have been introduced to the Penal Procedural Code. The major ones are the introduction of pre-trial police investigation. This makes the Director of the SIA a mere figurehead. It will not be him any longer but the prosecutor who will assign the investigations and will nominate the investigator for every trial. This amendment is of a purely political nature and aims at practically disowning Mr Rashkov of his functions. The majority has thus opted for a unified and centralised prosecutor's office, which they used to describe as "stalinist" just a year ago. The former UDF Deputy Minister of Justice and current Prosecutor General will now personally and individually decide on investigating persons with immunity and cabinet ministers and will be the one to nominate the magistrates who will be dealing with such cases. He will also be the only person authorised to terminate investigations without having them verified by an independent court. Thus the UDF has practically restored all prosecutor's powers which it took away a year ago for the sake of penalising the former Prosecutor General, Mr Ivan Tatarshev, and other prosecutors whom the majority deemed as "alien" to their regime.
It is extremely alarming that there are serious reasons to believe that there is unauthorised surveillance for political reasons against political opponents or people who are not directly associated with the UDF. There is proof that there has been unauthorised police surveillance over a supreme magistrate, Mr Boyko Rashkov, member of the Supreme Judiciary Council and Director of the Specialised Investigation Agency, with the purpose of fabricating accusations against him and thus dismissing him from his post.
It is absolutely imperative that the rapporteurs visit the country again and meet the people in question personally.
As mentioned on earlier occasions, no recommendations of the Council of Europe or the Congress on Local and Regional Authorities regarding the autonomy of the local government have been taken into account. The proposal of the European Left for an amendment of the Constitution to permit the election of the second level of local government, the regional governors, has been declined. Moreover, the grip of the central power over local government has become even tighter through centralised budget policies and the deprivation of the municipalities from communal property (and the revenues from it) which goes to the state.
In the last week of July 1999 the second reading of the amendments to the Law on Local Self-Government and Local Administration and the Law on Local Elections was completed. The texts which were adopted justified the concerns of the opposition that the chances of minor and opposition parties will be seriously impaired in the forthcoming local elections.
This has also been the public reaction of the People's Union which is part of the government majority. Some of these amendments go against the norms of European law and the European Charter of Self-Government.
In the Law on Self-Government and Local Administration:
1. The regional councils in the big cities with regional administrative division have been abolished (Art.2).
2. The direct election of mayors of these regions has also been abolished (Art.21).
3. The number of municipal councillors has been reduced, which limits the opportunity for a broad political and professional representation. In towns of up to 50.000 inhabitants the reduction is 42% (Art.19).
4. The mayor can no longer be a councillor and cannot thus convene a meeting of the municipal council, while the district governor appointed by the executive is given the right to be a councillor and can thus convene the council (Art.23 and 41).
5. Villages of less than 500 inhabitants cannot elect their own mayor. Thus 62% of all villages and towns with 700.000 inhabitants are deprived of the right to direct vote for a mayor (par.32 of the transitional provisions).
6. The proposal of the opposition for a text to secure relative financial autonomy of local government was voted down by the majority (draft-article 51b).
In the Law on Local Elections
1. The number of voters who can register an independent candidate for a councillor or a mayor has been considerably increased (Art.35).
2. Single papers have been introduced for a mayor and for municipal councillors in which no indication is given about the political affiliation or the independent statute of the candidates. They will be arranged by ballot which does not give enough time for informing the voters about the arrangement of the candidates' names on the voting papers (Art.73).
3. Voting papers will be verified with three signatures, which opens the risk of their invalidation or falsification (Art.77).
As a result, 2.700.000 Bulgarian citizens have been deprived of voting rights.
63% of the Bulgarian villages with 700.000 inhabitants or 10% of the voters will have the right to elect the president of the republic but not their own mayor. He will be a political nominee of the majority of the council.
This also applies to other 2.000.000 citizens of the regions in the big cities.
Another distortion of the vote is the anonymity of the councillors. The ballot papers will only contain the names of the parties or the coalitions but not the names of the candidates themselves.
Dismissals for political reasons continue.
The Law on Civil Service was passed without taking into account the recommendations of the Council of Europe or the Venice Commission. The Minister of Public Administration publicly dismissed the critical remarks of the Venice Commission as "irrelevant" because, as he stated in an interview for the National Radio, "our law is in compliance with European law" (…!) There is no clear definition of who is a civil servant. Even a priest may be considered one under the vague description in the law. Neither is there a fair and politically unbiased body to serve as a mediator between the employer and the civil servant. The latter is practically entirely left at the mercy of his employer.
It has become an almost legal instrument in privatisation and in public services. Bribes have become legitimate. Institutions in Bulgaria are not stable enough to fight it – there exists practically no system of "checks and balances".
European Left in Bulgaria
Reporting committee: Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States.
Reference to committee: Resolution 1115 (1997) of 27 January 1997.
Draft resolution adopted by the committee on 12 January 2000 by 30 votes for, none against, 3 abstentions. Draft recommendation adopted by 28 votes for, none against, 5 abstentions.
Members of the committee: MM. Mota Amaral (Chair), Sole Tura (Vice-Chair), Sinka (Vice-Chair), Ms Akgönenç, MM. Akselsen, Angourakis, Atkinson, Averchev, Bársony, Baumel, Bindig, Brunetti, Columberg, Dagys, Davis, Demetriou, Diana, Domljan, Dumitrescu, Ms Durrieu, MM. Eltz, Enright, Eörsi, Eversdijk, Frunda, Gjellerod, Glotov, Gross, Gürkan, Gusenbauer, Hornhues, Irmer, Jansson, Jaskiernia, Jurgens, Ms Kautto, MM. Kelam, Kostytsky, Koulouris, Kuzmickas, Magnusson, Marmazov, Moeller, Muehlemann, Myrvoll, Nedelciuc, Ms Nemcova, Mr Pahor, Ms Poptodorova, Mr Ramirez Pery, Ms Ringstad, MM. Ruffy, Saglam, Ms Sehnalova, Ms Severinsen, MM. Shishlov, Smorawinski, Steolea, Ms Stoyanova, MM. Surjan, Tahiri, Valkeniers, Vella, Ms Wohlwend, M. Xhaferi.
N.B. The names of those members who took part in the meeting are printed in italics.
Secretaries to the committee: Mr Ausems, Mr Dufour, and Ms Chatzivassiliou.
1 See Doc. 8180 of 2 September 1998 and Doc. 8616 of 17 January 2000
2 The government has an absolute majority in the National Assembly with the support of the Union of Democratic Forces (parliamentary group chaired by Mrs E. Mikhaïlova) and the People's Union (parliamentary group chaired by Mrs A. Mozer and Mr S. Savov).
3 The chronicle of the amendments to the Judicial system Act, as provided by the Union of Democratic Forces, can be found in Appendix III.
4 Article 146 provides for six-months' imprisonment for "insult", while Article 147 punishes libel with up to a one year sentence. Article 148 permits the state prosecutor to press charges on behalf of officials who feel they have been defamed, and provides for punishment of up to three years' imprisonment.
5 According to the Union for National Salvation, there are no such broadcasts at all (see Appendix III).
6 According to the Union of Democratic Forces, "the inspection report of Mr Dimitrov does not contain any evidence to prove his allegations" (see Appendix III).