Constitutional Discontent in Bulgaria: Field for Offense or Retreat?

Anton Lodewijk George Offermans: Clerk Writing with a Quill (before 1911) // Public domain

During the first week of the 47th National Assembly, an attempt was made to resume the Bulgarian constitutional debate by forming a temporary commission to deal with proposals for amendments in the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria. This is a natural continuation from the already forgotten summer protests of 2020 towards more justice and eradication of corruption.

As expected, the opposition parties GERB-SDS, DPS and Vazrazhdane refused to nominate deputies to this commission, which at this stage hinders any efforts in this direction since changes require at least 160 votes among the 240 MP’s. The ruling parties have 134.

At first glance, it may seem that the old hidden coalition between GERB and DPS has won and de facto rendered meaningless the continued existence of the current government, but a more detailed in-depth look at the facts shows otherwise.

During a visit to Brussels, DPS presented to the Vice President of the European Commission its views on the amendments to the Constitution to declare itself as a renewed pro-reform force to the fore of Brussels.

In our country, of course, in the first row in the plenary hall of the National Assembly sits oligarch Delyan Peevski, as a confirmation of what he is doing, not what the Movement believes in. But the important thing is something else – DPS shows that it wants to participate in a different vision for Bulgaria – as a clean and mafia-free party.

Vazrazdhane, for its part, also opposed the workings of a future amendment to the Constitution, but back in December they voiced their modest vision for reforming the judiciary. Their draft amendment to the Judiciary Act is a populist apology to their constituents.

GERB, just as DPS, wants to break free from its mafia image and have unequivocally stated that they want to be recognized as a political party, and explicitly by the ruling coalition. Otherwise, we well remember that GERB used the basic law as a doormat, just so as not to hand over power in the summer of 2020. Then their project never received a boldly declared author but remained as a lone and ridiculous folklore creation.

In other words, DPS, GERB, and Vazrazhdane are looking for loopholes to negotiate in case the current government lasts in power, and not so much an indifference in the Constitution amendment Commission.

The first challenge is the election of constitutional judges from the quota of the National Assembly. Now this is possible with a simple majority and DPS, although and GERB will try to launch their candidacies, because it is the Constitutional Court that can block any reform of the current government, declaring the laws unconstitutional.

The very negotiation of majorities in the voting of the candidacies is a convenient occasion to split the coalition between the PP, BSP, ITN and DB, which will undermine the trust between them.

The second challenge is the of the members of the Supreme Judicial Council, as the term of office of this Council is expiring in the autumn and the procedure must begin. Here the required majority is again 160 votes. Obviously, without the votes in either GERB, Vazrazhdane or DPS, the ruling parties will not be able to fill the composition of this important institution, responsible for the position of each regular court and prosecutor.

This leads to the possibility to split the ruling coalition and bring the country to a constitutional crisis due to the impossibility of electing a new staff of the SJC. And from there, there will be no one to comply legally with the chief prosecutor Geshev, to administer the issues of the court and the prosecutor’s office and a number of other challenges.

The third challenge is the selection of inspectors in the Inspectorate at the Supreme Judicial Council. 160 votes are needed there as well and this again makes GERB, DPS, and Vazrazhdane a factor of influence.

And, therefore, it is too early to say, whether the constitutional debate is over. On the contrary, it is just beginning, unfortunately leaving the field of expertise, and evolving towards the field of politics, thus necessitating a more cold-blooded perspective from the new ruling government.

In the context of the debate, President Radev is also in a strong position, as he may soon present his own project.

Whether the constitutional changes are important for the Bulgarian society is out of question, but the failures of the last 30 years are rooted exactly in the refusal for meaningful reforms in the field of justice.

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