Bulgarian Constitution as Lifeline

Hermann Kern (1838-1912): A gentleman reading a newspaper (1891) // Public Domain

Soon it will be 8 years since the last constitutional changes related to the Bulgarian judiciary.

As politicians are evidently in a hurry to present us with a Christmas gift in the form of new amendments to the Fundamental Law, perhaps it is a good idea to recall what happened in 2015, highlight the differences with the current situation, and suggest why there is such a lack of enthusiasm for the current initiative.

In 2015 There Was:

  • Visionary Thinking and Strategic Planning

Hristo Ivanov and his team at the Ministry of Justice drafted, and the Parliament adopted, a thorough and coherent Strategy for the continuation of judicial reform and a detailed Roadmap for its implementation. The concept of constitutional amendments was part of a larger plan and cause to democratize justice.

  • More publicity and enough time for discussions

The involvement of a broader range of stakeholders brought a sense of genuine legitimacy to the process, with transparency and pluralism, and this occurred without a sense of neurotic haste.

  • Antagonists

The presence and actions of D. Peevski, S. Tsatsarov, Tsv. Tsvetanov on the political scene allowed a clear outlining of the conflict between those defending the independence of the judiciary and the status quo. The personalized attacks on critical judges, the denouncing notebooks of Philip Zlatanov, “you chose him” (N. Kokinov’s remark to Borissov about Tsatsarov’s appointment) and others clearly illustrated to the public that there is clearly a problem with the control of the court and the prosecution and it must be addressed.

  • Enthusiasm from the protests in 2013 and the belief that changes are possible.
  • The need to showcase some reforms to foreign powrs the European Commission was still monitoring Bulgaria through the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism.

Despite everything, it came to the so-called ‘historical compromise,’ where crucial reform proposals were not accepted and voted on. The Reformist Bloc (RB) party turned into the Schrödinger’s RB – they were both in opposition and were in power.

In 2023 There Is:

  • Political solipsism and short-sightedness

There is an impression that the Constitution is not treated as a tool that could contribute to improving public welfare but rather as the glue that creates cohesion within the ruling  unofficial coalition. This is confirmed by the words of Radomir Cholakov: ‘If there are no changes to the Constitution by New Year, the government falls, and it becomes Armageddon.’ By the way, the remark strongly resembles the words of Stanishev from 2013: ‘Either we vote for Peevski as the head of DANS, or the government falls.

There are no real talks about future amendments to the Law on the Judiciary, taking institutional measures, holding elections of bodies with expired mandates and other necessary actions.

  • Leadership problem

The topic is dominated by Peevski, instead of being led by political entities that legitimize their presence in parliament through judicial reform.

  • There are no antagonists

Everyone has boarded a consensus boat, which, however, is not a boat [1]. This is bound to confuse society, which can easily question why a change in the Constitution in the ‘Judicial Power’ chapter is actually necessary if there is no Geshev, the current acting Chief Prosecutor is evidently acceptable, and there is no need to elect bodies with long-expired mandates.

  • Absence of real debate

The recent publication of results of PISA obviously stirred more public excitement than the fact that amendments to the country’s Basic Law are to be voted on. In October, the Venice Commission criticized the lack of prior public debates. Two months later, the situation remains unchanged. Furthermore, there are no real discussions among the political forces themselves. We have understood that consensus is critical to the existence of government, but we have not understood consensus between what, between whom?

  • Expedition of the procedure

Of course, rushing is presented again as a justified initiative. This time it is due to our country’s desire to be accepted into the Schengen area, and therefore, everything must happen before the Christmas holidays. However, this means no time for discussing amended texts, which are almost certain to exist. Let’s recall that expediting was criticized by the Venice Commission in October.

The nervous haste probably suggests that the Christmas present will be a surprise, and the accumulated experience from previous attempts at constitutional reform in the judiciary indicates that this surprise may not be pleasant.


[1] „Ceci n’est pas une pipe“

Written by Ekaterina Baksanova

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