Is It Goodbye to 2008 Right Now?
It should be a time of celebration as we sit at a crossroads of history on the eve of Bulgaria's accession to the European Union. It should be a time for the young and a time for those who try to speak of change and hope; a time to relish Bulgaria's accelerated growth as it takes down its borders and comes to terms with its varied past and adjusts to its place alongside the developed economies of Western Europe. Bulgaria's seat at the top table, its place in the sun should have been assured.
But we now know that Bulgaria's entry into the EU is for the first time of asking to be postponed for one year. And why you may ask is it "for the first time of asking"?
Surely you may say this is just a little stomach upset, a little grumpiness by those who have trying to humiliate those who have not and that after another year of recrimination on both sides, Bulgaria will indeed take its place in the sun. This is not so.
Let us be under no illusions as to the reasons why Bulgaria's entry has been postponed and why at this particular moment in time it is far from certain that Bulgaria will be considered fit to take its place in the EU in 2008 or any time soon. It is because of organised crime and corruption. The Government and its predecessor has given repeated assurances to Brussels that it is tackling organised crime and corruption in public office and that it will put the wrong-doers in prison.
It should be clear to you that this is not happening and that these empty promises are no longer believed in 2006 and further that unless things change they will not be believed in 2007 either. Things have to change.
TOO GENEROUS TO CRIMINALS
Bulgaria has adopted a new code for the administration of criminal justice giving responsibility for pursuing prosecutions to the police. Like most civilised countries in the West there are detailed rules of Evidence and Procedure, which give citizens rights to ensure they are not falsely accused or convicted on false or flawed evidence.
These rights are essential to all of us and must be protected for all time in our constitution. The really important question however, is how to maintain these rights while at the same time, finding a way to convict organised criminals and actually sending them to prison.
If the police are to be given these new responsibilities they must be given our support in the fight against organised crime and wider powers in pursuing prosecutions. This is not a time to shrug our shoulders and say that nothing can be done because there is so much corruption among the police themselves, prosecutors and judges. We must give them the powers and then demand results. It is not inevitable that all organised criminals will be acquitted in all cases. We have allowed the system to grow rotten and it is the responsibility of us all to put it right.
TOUGH NEW LAWS ARE NEEDED
There have to be convictions of high-profile criminals. The law has to be changed to stop such people being acquitted because of a technical fault in the evidence. Witnesses have to be protected and the Courts have to make the right decision where, for instance, evidence and personal testimony damaging to the defence has mysteriously been lost when the case reaches Court.
Where in the opinion of a senior police officer a person charged with crime has links to organised crime the Court should be allowed to give greater credence to circumstantial evidence. Secondary and surveillance evidence, such as tape recordings and photographs, which are all too often ruled to be inadmissible should, in such a case, be generally admissible.
Where a person has been convicted in such circumstances it should be open to the Court to rule that his personal assets and property, or a substantial portion of them, whether held in his own name or not, should be confiscated if there is a reasonable belief that such assets come from the proceeds of crime.
Crime and European accession are linked and will remain linked until Bulgaria takes the cure.
Bulgaria is no longer behind an Iron Curtain. The world is watching.
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