Rafael Catal?: Spain Stands Ready to Help Bulgaria in Judicial Reform
A Spanish prosecutor will be incorporated as part of the European Commission’s supervision on the Bulgarian judicial system, Spain’s acting Justice Minister Rafael Catal? told Bulgarian journalists on Thursday.
“We are in the process of selection to contribute to the evaluation of reforms that are being carried out, “ Catal? added. He made clear Spain has an open line for cooperation with Bulgaria in the area of justice and is fully available to provide help on any issue that is of interest to the country.
The Spanish official was in Bulgaria for a conference bringing together justice ministers from Council of Europe member states and magistrates to discuss ways to boost independence and efficiency of judicial institutions. He also held a working meeting with Bulgarian counterpart Ekaterina Zaharieva and an informal one Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov.
His previous visit was to Romania, where the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), the country’s agency working on corruption cases that is part of the national prosecuting authority, was modelled after a Spanish institution.
However, asked by Novinite whether the possibility of offering Spanish expertise in the creation of the Bulgarian anti-corruption body had been on the agenda of his meeting with Zaharieva, Catal? indicated no concrete steps had been discussed.
“Naturally, the decision to set up an organization fighting corruption is in the hands of the Bulgarian government… We would be happy to help where Spain’s cooperation seems useful.”
“I have just had a bilateral meeting with the Bulgaria Minister of Justice… about bilateral cooperation we have developed in the past which help realized the reform Bulgaria is carrying out. In particular, our Chief Prosecutor’s Office has had diverse projects in which it has collaborated with Bulgaria for the strengthening of the Chief Prosecutor’s Office here.”
The creation of an anti-corruption directorate with the prosecution similar to the one in Romania has been a divisive issue, with Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kuneva, who oversees the drafting of an anti-corruption bill, initially adopting and then renouncing the idea and finally choosing only to put forward the so-called Integrity Agency, an administrative anti-graft watchdog that would put high-profile officials under scrutiny.
No Monitoring Needed in Other EU Member States
Catal? has also voiced his skepticism about an idea put forward by Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who at the Justice Ministers’ conference suggested that all EU member states should be subjected to monitoring similar to the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) applied to Bulgaria and Romania.
“Every country has its system of controls, its system of constitutional and institutional guarantees. [The CVM] was a mechanism adopted particularly on the occasion of Bulgaria and Romania's accession [in the EU]. I imagine it wil be temporary and will be lifted in the end, so it seems to me that the systems of control throughout Europe are enough to say that in every member state there is respect for the rule of law and guarantees for all citizens' rights.”
The CVM, in force for Bulgaria and Romania since the mid-2000s and implemented as a precondition for the two countries to join the EU, has recently been subject to debate among Bulgarian MEPs, some of whom have suggested it should be revoked after a decade of mixed results, while others believe more states should use the mechanism to address shortcomings of their own judicial systems.
No News about Bulgarian Sailors Tried for Drug Trafficking
Asked by journalists about developments on the case of a ship with three tons of cocaine on board detained off Spain in 2012 and 31 crew members, including 21 Bulgarian nationals were taken into custody (some of them being released later), Catal? said he had no up-to-date information about the case.
The ship's captain, Ivan Stanchev, was indicted, with the Spanish prosecution alleging that he had made a deal in Madrid to tranport the cocaine and to receive EUR 180 000 for himself and his crew in return.
A Global Anti-Terror Court?
Asked about the concept of an International Court to combat terrorism, an initiative put forward by Romania that Spain has also embraced, Catal? said it had not been on the agenda of his meetings with Bulgarian officials.
Catal? said he and his Romanian counterpart had held extensive discussions on the proposal which Madrid has strongly backed at the level of the United Nations.
“It is a proposal that has been introduced to the United Nations General Assembly as at the moment we are seeking agreement from member states… We are in the stage of design of the project and the search for support.”
The minister argued that, while some countries have no capacity whatsoever to fight terror, others have substantial experience, and an international court would help the global effort.
Much multilateral work will be needed to overcome obstacles such as the lack of a common definition of terrorism, he added. “Within the European Union, when we are promoting a new directive or regulation at the level of 28 member states, we stumble upon problems of this nature. The legal concepts are not the same, there are different legal cultures among the EU countries. At a world level it is more complicated.”
Socialists to Blame for Spain’s Political Deadlock
On the political crisis in Spain, where parties have been unable to form a new cabinet since the election in December of last year, he asserted the acting government of the People’s Party (PP) was working to reach an agreement on a new government with centrist Ciudadanos party and socialist PSOE, but blamed the latter for the lack of progress.
“The government of PP has offered from the first day [after the elections, December 21] Ciudadanos and the socialist party extended hand to negotiate, to talk ablout the setting up of a broad parliamentary majority that would create a government that will go on with the reforms, contribute to economic growth and open jobs, the welfare state, this is the most important for us. We think that with the PSOE and ciudadanos we can find this level of agreement. But it seems that Mr S?nchez [Pedro S?nchez, the head of PSOE], has blocked the possibility, has declined repeatedly. He has declined not just to reach an agreement, but to talk… We will take effort until the last day when it is possible to have an agreement.”
“Repeating the elections is not desired by anyone. It will be a failure of political negotiations, so let's hope we still have time to find this broad majority to continue with reforms,” Catal? concluded.
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