Apr 17th 2008
From The Economist print edition
One resignation is not enough to clean up Bulgaria
RUMEN PETKOV admits that as the then Bulgarian interior minister he met the country's top gangsters in 2006. He claims it was in a good cause: to ask them to stop shooting each other in the crucial weeks ahead of the country's accession to the European Union.
Bulgaria's woes with crime and corruption needed more than a temporary ceasefire. Gangland shootings, never resolved, have resumed: last week gunmen killed Bulgaria's best-known author of books on the mafia, Georgy Stoyev, and the manager of an energy firm with a controversial history.
Under pressure from the European Union, Mr Petkov resigned this week after a leaked intelligence report said a drug gang had received top-secret internal documents from officials in his ministry, while illegal booze producers gave money to a senior crime-fighter in return for information and the destruction of incriminating evidence. EU officials have long worried that anything they shared with Bulgarian counterparts would be leaked to gangsters. Eurocrats say they objected to Mr Petkov's bullying attitude; an EU source says he enjoyed “rubbing our nose into the fact that Bulgaria is now a member state”. That is not a unanimous view. The European Commission's vice-president, Franco Frattini, went skiing with Mr Petkov last year and has praised him. But the EU has already suspended some programmes because of corruption. In July, it will assess Bulgaria's overall progress and may suspend the validity of its court decisions elsewhere in the EU.
It was a parliamentary investigation that made Mr Petkov's position impossible. But the real story is Bulgaria's political weakness. The ruling ex-communists are split between a supposedly modernising faction lead by the prime minister, Sergey Stanishev, and the old guard around Mr Petkov. A coalition party that represents the Turkish ethnic minority controls the agriculture and environment ministries, the main conduits for EU money. It has been heavily criticised for land deals, arbitrary treatment of mining licences and vote-buying.
Mr Stanishev was recently forced to bring back into government a deputy environment minister from this party, fired last year for alleged corruption (and then cleared). While out of office he caused surprise by acquiring two newspapers (from his savings, he said). The economy minister, Rumen Ovcharov, another old guard ex-communist, resigned last year under a cloud, but protested his innocence. Criticism from Brussels and elsewhere about Bulgaria's murk has continued. One more resignation is unlikely to make a difference.
Friday, April 18, 2008