Anti-corruption drive key for Bulgaria Financial_Times - 2006/12/14
Bulgaria’s main task after EU accession will be to improve the judicial system by curbing corruption among judges and prosecutors and banning political interference, according to western officials and Sofia think-tanks.
An overhaul at the chief prosecutor’s office, launched last February, has so far failed to bring convictions of organised crime bosses or politicians accused of bribe-taking.
Sofia faces EU sanctions if Commission monitors decide that reforms are insufficient, including a refusal to recognise decisions by Bulgarian courts and suspension of hundreds of millions of euros in aid payments.
“Sustaining the pace of judicial reform will be a big challenge. One way would be for judges and prosecutors to co-operate on specific cases with colleagues from “old” member-states,” says Ivanka Ivanova, law programme director at the Open Society Institute in Sofia.
Another challenge for the government will be disbursing up to ˆ1bn in farm and regional aid in the first two years of membership. Western officials in Sofia doubt whether Bulgaria’s official payments agency will be able to disburse EU funds transparently and on time.
“There’s precious little policy capacity in government on preparing the Bulgarian economy and society to benefit from membership. At the same time schemes to channel EU funds to the business clientele of political parties are quite sophisticated,” says Ognian Shentov, chairman of the Centre of the Study of Democracy, a Sofia think-tank.
Energy security is also a concern, with two units at the Kozloduy nuclear power complex due to shut down next month, as a condition of EU accession. A new nuclear project is underway at Belene on the Danube but would not start up before 2015.
Bulgaria has come under pressure to re-negotiate supply contracts with Gazprom at higher prices well before the expiry date and currently has no alternative supplier.
Author: Theodor Troev, Kerin Hope