(DF) EP Group Monitoring Democracy, Rule of Law, Fundamental Rights Meets with Top Prosecutors, Does not Get All Answers It Seeks but Remains Optimistic

September 24 (BTA) – The Democracy, Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights Monitoring Group at the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) met with Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev and his deputies on the second and last day of a Sofia working visit aimed to assess the rule of law in the country. Sophie in ‘t Velt, head of the delegation, told a news conference that at the meeting with the country’s top prosecutor they did not get all answers they sought but ended on a positive note about the country’s capacity to address the problems with the rule of law and media freedom. According to a press release of the Prosecution Service, the discussions centred on the legal order and the judicial reform, the functioning and powers of the prosecuting magistracy and the prosecutor general in the Bulgarian judicial system, the fight against corruption, and the investigation of cases of high public and media interest. The Bulgarian prosecution service expressed readiness to carry on the bilateral dialogue with European Parliament representatives and remains available to provide further information about the legal order in Bulgaria, as well as on matters of shared interest. Sophie in ‘t Velt told the press that most of the questions her delegation asked were related to inertia and lack of activity, she commented. She noted that one of the delegation’s inquiries was of a specific case involving a notorious photo of the previous prime minister – in which he was sleeping in his bedroom with bundles of money and a gun on his nightstand – and it was met with an answer of ”I don’t know where this case is in terms of production”, Veld said. This is a case of great sensitivity, serious importance and the Prosecutor General is expected to be aware, she commented. The delegation expressed concern about the right of the Prosecutor General to suspend proceedings. According to them, this gives extraordinary powers, and combined with the apparent inertia in this department, the situation is very worrying, Veld argued. Sophie in ‘t Velt said that in Bulgaria, as well as in other countries the delegation is monitoring, there is a problem with the lack of transparency of media ownership. She noted that this is a matter of European property rules, because there is also a cross-border element – there are ultimate owners who own media in several Member States. The EC must ensure equality, genuine competition and countering the concentration of media ownership, Veld said. On the topic of police violence during protests against the government, the Prosecutor General and corruption in 2020, Sophie in ‘t Velt said many of their interlocutors were horrified, ashamed and angry. But even on this matter, there seems to be almost no follow-up, she said. It will take longer to eradicate these issues, but there are some problems that can be solved more quickly, and not just by adopting new legislation. Veld argued that the caretaker government very wisely used the powers it has and worked within the current legislation to overcome some of these problems. However, in the end, Veld said that she is hopeful that there is energy, determination, and expertise, and if all of them are mobilized, Bulgaria will make a huge leap forward. She sent a message to the Bulgarian people, that Europe, the European Parliament, is here, watching, listening and supporting them. Elena Yoncheva, who was a member of the delegation, noted that in Bulgaria there is a systemic problem related to the rule of law, corruption and freedom of the media. The most important thing is that Brussels has turned its attention to Bulgaria, said Yoncheva. According to her, one of the big problems in Bulgaria is that for the last 10 years the EU funds under the various communication programmes have been distributed opaquely and thus media have been created, which have become PR agencies of the government itself. The second big problem is corruption: if it does not deal with this problem, Bulgaria will continue to be a poor country with dependent media, she noted. Тhe LIBE Monitoring Group was on a mission in Bulgaria and Slovakia between September 21 and 24 as part of an ongoing tour of various European countries, the prosecution service said in a press release. MY, LN/DT