Today, the European Commission (EC) confirmed what was stated in the latest assessment on the rule of law and officially ended the monitoring over Bulgaria and Romania. The decision was announced by the European Commission and the Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs in Sofia.
This means that both countries have made significant progress in implementing the commitments they made before they joined the European Union in 2007, and that they have satisfactorily covered the criteria of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism. For Bulgaria, the fulfillment of the commitments was found in the last report for the country under the mechanism, drawn up in 2019, and for Romania - in 2022. Only the work on implementing specific commitments, adopted according to the recommendations of these reports, remained, and this was completed in June this year.
The two countries will continue to be evaluated within the annual cycle of the Report on the rule of law, applicable to all other member states of the European Union. The report has a wider scope than the monitoring. In addition, specific commitments - for the reform of the administration of justice and the framework for fighting corruption - have been undertaken by Bulgaria according to the Recovery and Sustainability Plan.
The governments or parliaments of the other 26 countries in the EU, as well as the Council of the EU and the European Parliament, have nothing to do with the termination of monitoring. This is the exclusive competence of the European Commission. There is only a requirement that it notify the council sufficiently in advance (this happened on 5 July 2023) and comply with the council's findings, which it has done.
The last report on Bulgaria's progress under the mechanism is from 2019. However, the monitoring mechanism remained, and in the following years experts noted problems related to the prosecution, the lack of progress on corruption investigations and other problems.
In November 2022, the European Commission also stopped preparing reports on Romania's progress under the mechanism.
EC President Ursula von der Leyen said:
"I would like to congratulate Bulgaria and Romania on the significant progress made since their accession to the EU so far. The rule of law is one of our core shared values as a union and both Member States have achieved results on important reforms in recent years. Today we report on these efforts, ending the mechanism. Work can now continue within the annual rule of law review cycle, as is done for all other Member States."
The Prime Minister Academician Nikolai Denkov:
"Another barrier has been removed to be equal with the rest of the European Union countries in all respects. Soon we must remove the others too - to be accepted in Schengen and join the Eurozone. On behalf of the Bulgarian government, I thank the European Commission and the leaders of European countries for assessing the progress of Bulgaria and Romania in implementing the rule of law and removing the special verification mechanism of our countries."
Atanas Slavov, Minister of Justice:
"Today's decision of the European Commission is a significant success and recognition of the reforms that are being carried out in Bulgaria in the field of the rule of law. The removal of the special monitoring under the mechanism, which lasted for nearly 17 years, means that the progress of our country in the field of judicial reform and the fight against corruption will be evaluated within the annual cycle for the rule of law in the EU and the regular annual reports of the European Commission, as it is for all other member states of the union. This significantly increases confidence in the Bulgarian justice system and will have a favorable impact on the process of Bulgaria's integration into Schengen and the Eurozone."
A reaction also came from the chairmen of the parliamentary groups of the two governing formations GERB and "We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria". Desislava Atanasova described the dropping of the monitoring as a "huge success for Bulgaria", which is the result of "the merits of many governments and many legislatures of the People's assembly". She expressed hope that this will help the country to be accepted into Schengen as soon as possible. "We are optimistic and we hope to succeed", she commented.
Kiril Petkov, for his part, called the cancellation of the monitoring "a huge victory" and attributed it to the success of the "Denkov-Gabriel" government. "This is only the 100th day of this government and this is a national success. This would not have happened without us, but Acad. Denkov and Mariya Gabriel worked together as a team and this is a huge success for them and a success for the whole government," he said. After that, he called on the Prime Ministers of Austria and the Netherlands, Mark Rutte and Karl Nehamer, to support Bulgaria for its entry into Schengen.
According to the leader of "Yes, Bulgaria" Hristo Ivanov, the dropping of the mechanism is "very good news for the Bulgarian image". According to him, this success is due to the fact that the European partners see that there is a political elite in Bulgaria that can set ambitious priorities and, based on them, form a government that will stabilize the political situation. According to him, this step should be seen as a credit of confidence to previous requests and actions.
"We have a lot of work ahead of us, serious changes to the Constitution are ahead, which should lead to the election of the SJC, the Inspectorate and a new chief prosecutor, who should really be convincing figures, because only then will our partners see that we have fulfilled this credit," he added.
According to Ivanov, Bulgaria's Schengen membership depends mainly on internal political processes, mainly in the Netherlands and Austria. "When two member countries like Bulgaria and Romania make efforts and they affect the general security and stability of the institutions in the European Union, we must see similar actions from the Netherlands and Austria, because otherwise, all European citizens will pay the price.After all - it is only European. Finally, Bulgaria and Romania will gain access to Schengen, so that Bulgarian citizens can beproper citizens ofthe EU," he added.
The informal leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, Delyan Peevski, who is sanctioned for corruption under the global Magnitsky Act, also indicated that this was a success for the government. According to him, after the termination of the monitoring, there are no grounds for the country not to be admitted to Schengen. "I hope that we will already do our things at the borders and reduce the migrant pressure, very soon we will have the good news that we are in Schengen. We hope that this will happen by December," said Peevski, according to whom, it is not possible to do this in October.
"The Commission has never made a connection between Schengen accession and the Monitoring, as these are separate lines of work, each with its own requirements," said a statement to today's decision.
"The Commission has always been very clear in its position that we should open the Schengen area to Bulgaria and Romania. For 12 years, Bulgaria and Romania have continuously met all the necessary conditions for joining the Schengen area, as stated in the Schengen Regulation. The expansion of Schengen remains a political priority for the commission. Bulgaria and Romania must obtain full participation in the Schengen area without further delay," the text adds.
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