Recommendation 45 (1998)1 on the situation of local and regional self-government in the Republic of Bulgaria

The Congress,

1. Having regard to the progress report prepared by Mr Cuatrecasas in 1996 and to its Resolution 58 (1997) which calls for a final report on the situation of local democracy in Bulgaria;

2. Having sent to Bulgaria a delegation comprising its two co-rapporteurs, Mr De Sabbata and

Mr Cuatrecasas, a consultant and the Secretariat, from 3 to 6 December 1997 and from 11 to 14 March 1998, and having examined its report;

3. Thanks the Bulgarian authorities, at all levels, for welcoming its delegation, for their openness and for their desire to talk and to co-operate;

4. Welcomes the fact that the same attitude prevails within the country itself and applauds recently established co-operation between associations of local authorities in Bulgaria, in particular the national association, and the central authorities (Government and Parliament);

5. Hopes that this co-operation will become closer and will continue to develop so that Bulgaria is able to approach the next elections with confidence and thus to guarantee freedoms and local self-government once and for all;

6. Is interested to note the progress made by Bulgaria in recent years in the local democracy field and hopes that the reforms will continue in the future in the same energetic and steadfast way, not least in the field of regional self-government;

7. Notes, however, that some structures, procedures and practices inherited from the past still remain, and that these are incompatible with the new situation and with the country’s European stance and should therefore be modified without delay;

8. Believes that Bulgaria deserves more help, at bilateral and European levels, than it has received in the past, to complete its social, economic and political transition, not least through broader and more effective European co-operation at inter-municipal and inter-regional levels.

A. Believes it is right to recommend that the competent authorities of the Republic of Bulgaria:

1. with regard to supervision of the actions and organs of local authorities:

1.1 examine in detail current legislation and practices concerning the various types of supervision carried out by the regional governor and national government ministries in the light of the principles mentioned under Article 8 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, with a particular view to:

– strengthening measures to prevent excessive or inappropriate use of powers to ensure compliance with the law (Art.8.2);

– gauging the intervention of the controlling authority according to the seriousness of the breach of the law and the importance of the interests which it is intended to protect (principle of proportionality, Art.8.3);

– streamlining procedures for bringing legal action in order to make sure Art.11 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government is properly applied;

– falling into line with the current practice in most Council of Europe member States concerning compatibility between the regional governor’s responsibilities on the one hand and those of a municipal councillor or mayor on the other;

1.2 examine the State Prosecutors’ powers to suspend local elected representatives as well as appeal procedures, elected representatives have a genuine assurance that Art.7 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government (free exercise of elected representatives’ functions) is fully observed; in particular that they:

– consider removing an elected representative from office only if a severe judicial penalty is imposed and once a final judgment (not contestable) has come into force;

– limit powers to suspend local elected representatives from their duties to cases of serious and dangerous offences, and ensuring that such suspension is always ordered by a court;

– require that time-limits be strictly observed;

– make provision for an "external" judicial review of any suspension imposed by the State Prosecutors;

– introduce an appropriate judicial procedure for the suspension of local elected representatives.

2. With regard to responsibilities and local finances:

2.1 adopt a clear guideline concerning those responsibilities that are shared between the State and the municipalities, by means of an outline act (laying down general principles) and by setting up appropriate bargaining structures and procedures in order to correct the existing imbalance between rights and responsibilities, to achieve a fair distribution of powers and to settle any issues concerning their practical use;

2.2 strike a better balance between local authorities’ financial resources and their tasks, particularly in the field of "shared responsibilities";

2.3 increase the proportion of own resources as opposed to State transfers;

2.4 ensure that municipal authorities have sufficient buildings, in both qualitative and quantitative terms, to be able to carry out their financial and administrative functions.

3. With regard to regionalisation:

3.1 give further thought to the setting up of regional self-government bodies on the basis of the guidelines laid down in the European Charter of local self-government and resort to the expertise of the CLRAE and notably of its Chamber of Regions in this field;

3.2 while awaiting the results of a major legislative reform setting up a second levelof self-government with democratically constituted decision-making bodies:

– devise, without delay, an economic and territorial planning method, based on the subsidiarity principle;

– clarify the relationship between "regional/spatial planning" and "regional development";

- devise, with the help of the municipal authorities concerned, regional development schemes within existing local and regional administrative bodies;

– give State representatives at the regional level of administration a role and the necessary means to facilitate the co-ordination of all development programmes drawn up by the municipalities; such co-ordination must form the basis for any financial equalisation between municipalities (Art.9.5 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government);

– consider setting up regional development funds;

– do not neglect inter-regional co-operation or geographical development programmes (Black Sea, Danube, mountain regions, plains, etc).

4. with regard to supporting the actions of municipalities and of their associations, urge them:

– to devise programmes in accordance with the subsidiarity principle (municipal, regional and national programmes);

– to set up without delay well structured associations within each existing regional administrative body;

– to carry on with inter-regional development programmes;

– to begin, without delay, preparing a considered contribution to the debate on regional development and regionalisation, through discussions between the largest possible number of local authority representatives, experts and informed citizens.

B. Recommends that the local and regional authorities of the Council of Europe:

1. promote and support any kind of inter-municipal or inter-regional co-operation between Bulgaria and other European countries;

2. take steps to ensure closer co-operation between their associations and their counterparts in Bulgaria, in particular with the Bulgarian national association;

3. provide special assistance for the issues of management problems of big cities in Bulgaria and process of regionalisation.

C. Recommends that the Parliamentary Assembly fully involve Bulgaria in activities concerning co-operation between Mediterranean and Black Sea countries.

D. Recommends that the Committee of Ministers, in the light of the above observations and recommendations, actively support the democratic process taking place in Bulgaria, especially with regard to local and regional self-government under the Lode Programme.

E. Recommends that the appropriate European bodies and, in particular, the European Union, strenghten their financial and other support for programmes of regional development in Bulgaria, such as the development of the Danube basin, including the Danube-Rhin axis and the Black Sea area.

1 Debated by the Congress and adopted on 28 May 1998, 3rd sitting (see document CG (5) 3, draft Recommandation presented by Mr G. De Sabbata and Mr L. Cuatrecasas, Rapporteurs).

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