Bulgaria on Friday announced the creation of a special court to tackle high-level corruption, despite objections from campaigners who fear it could end up being used to settle political scores.
Part of a package of measures in what is considered one of the most corrupt countries in the European Union, the decision was announced in the country’s official gazette.
The court will handle cases involving ministers, deputies and mayors and is part of a reform of the criminal code designed to galvanise the justice system.
The decision to set up the special court has provoked criticism, both from the union representing Bulgarian judges and from non-governmental organisations.
They have pointed to what they say is a danger its special status could mean its verdicts end up being politically motivated.
They also argue that the new court does not address the real problem, which is an absence of effective corruption investigations and properly supported charges.
Bulgaria has been a member of the EU since 2007, but like Romania is under increased surveillance because of its record of corruption.
Brussels has regularly denounced the country’s lack of progress in tackling graft.
In its latest report in January, the European Commission called for changes to the criminal code to “improve the legal framework for the prosecution of high-level corruption and serious organised crime”.
In autumn, parliament will also vote on a separate measure to set up a new anti-corruption body, as recommended by Brussels.
The new committee would centralise all the means being used to fight corruption currently scattered in different parts of the system.
Parliament has rejected similar proposals twice before however.
In its January report, the Commission noted: “The adoption of a law to put in place an effective and accountable new anti-corruption institution will be a key test of Bulgaria’s resolve in 2017.”
The Commission’s next report on Bulgaria is due in December — just before the country takes on the rotating six-monthly presidency of the EU.
According to an index maintained by watchdog group Transparency International, Bulgaria is the EU country where perception of corruption is the highest.