What’s up Bulgaria? Controversial new prosecutor general, and GERB hold on to power4 min read

– On October 22nd the European Commission announced that the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) for judicial review in Bulgaria could be lifted because “the progress made [by the country] under CVM is sufficient to meet Bulgaria’s commitments made at the time of accession to the EU”. Although Boyko Borissov’s government welcomed this statement as a clear recognition of its efforts and a great achievement for the country, the message from the Commission was in fact a bit more ambiguous: monitoring of Bulgaria’s judicial reform and fight against corruption and organised crime is far from being suspended altogether. The Commission could do suspend the monitoring if it saw fit to do so,, but it decided instead to “take duly into account the observations of the Council, as well as the European Parliament […] before making a final decision”. Additionally, if the CVM is to be officially withdrawn from Bulgaria, it would only be substituted by an “EU-wide mechanism”.

Some have argued that the lifting of the CVM was a personal promise of Jean-Claude Juncker to Borissov. The two of them in Sofia, Bulgaria, April 27th 2014. Image source: Euractiv

– On October 24th the Supreme Judicial Council voted 20 to four to elect Ivan Geshev as Bulgaria’s next Prosecutor General (PG). Geshev, who is currently a deputy PG, was the sole nominee for the position and faced a series of protests against his appointment in the last weeks. So far in his career as a prosecutor, Geshev has been criticised for making threats against journalists, uttering racist remarks towards Roma, and violating human rights of an opposition mayor while in custody.

– On October 24th the prime ministers of Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania signed a joint letter on the proposed EU’s Mobility Package. The PMs oppose the regulation on road transport in its current form due to what they see as “contradictory provisions” such as “the obligation for trucks to return regularly to the Member State of establishment, as well as the restrictions on cabotage operations”. 

“This clearly goes against the efforts to implement the ambitious EU climate policy”, the PMs wrote.  The Package is yet to be discussed at the highest EU level. Eastern European transport firms fear that the regulations envisaged in the proposal will result in lowering their competitiveness and will benefit big Western companies. The price for that competitiveness, however, is often worse working conditions for the drivers in the periphery of Europe.  

Yordanka Fandakova and Maya Manolova before a TV debate on October 17th. Image source: Nova.bg

– Local elections were held in Bulgaria on October 27th and November 3rd. The ruling party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) preserved its dominant position in the country. GERB won mayoral positions in 133 municipalities, 8 more than in 2015. Although Borissov’s mayors lost in key regional cities like Ruse, Razgrad, and Blagoevgrad, his party remained the biggest force in their respective municipal councils. The results in Sofia were particularly interesting: for the first time since 2005, when the current Prime Minister won the capital’s mayoral seat, there was a run-off for the position. Maya Manolova, Bulgaria’s ombudswoman, backed by her former party, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP),  ran as an independent candidate and lost by about 5% in the second round against current mayor and deputy head of GERB Yordanka Fandakova.

– Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva summoned the French ambassador to Sofia on November 4th following President Emmanuel Macron’s 12-page long interview with the far-right outlet Valeurs actuelles. “I prefer people who came from Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire who are here and do the job (legally), rather than Bulgarian or Ukrainian trafficking networks,” Macron said.

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev commented that Macron “will find it hard to achieve EU leadership with such unmeasured comments”. Prime Minister Boyko Borissov reportedly spoke with Macron over the phone and said he hoped the French president would make it up by supporting Bulgaria’s bid to join ERM II, what some have called the “waiting room” for the Eurozone. 

– On November 7th President Radev returned the proposal to appoint Ivan Geshev as Prosecutor General back to the Supreme Judicial Council. Radev refused the appointment as Geshev was running unopposed. “The hallmark of a democratic state is the availability of alternatives to senior government positions”, President Radev said. “Electing a prosecutor is an act of high public importance and the way it is conducted should create trust, not doubts”, the President added.

– On November 14th the Supreme Judicial Council voted again and eventually overrode the request from the President to reconsider the appointment. Ivan Geshev’s term will start in January 2020 and will last 7 years.   

Main sources: Balkan Insight (EN), Dnevnik (BG)

Bozho Kolov is a Political Science graduate from Sofia. After working and studying in Poland, Romania, and Portugal he completed the EU-Russia Master’s program at University of Tartu, Estonia. Bozho’s main interests are Balkan and Eastern European politics, church – state relations and nationalism. Currently, he is based in Zagreb, Croatia.