Artur Torres Pereira: “The signature of the Additional Protocol by Bulgaria is a great step towards a full compliance with the Charter”
“The right to participate in the affairs of a local authority denotes in fact the right to seek to determine or to influence the exercise of a local authority's powers and responsibilities” explains Artur Torres Pereira, Congress Rapporteur on Bulgaria, in an interview. “The signature of the Additional Protocol to the European Charter of Local Self-Government on the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority, only six month after the adoption of the recommendation by the Congress, shows that Bulgaria is an active member State of the Council of Europe which considers seriously the recommendations made to its authorities”, he stressed.
Interview - 15.05.2012
You took part to the monitoring visit in the country, in November 2010, and recommended the Bulgarian Government to take further steps for ensuring the respect of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. What has been achieved until now and what are you expectations for the future?
First of all, Bulgaria has just signed the Additional Protocol to the European Charter of Local Self-Government on the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority (CETS No. 207). With the signature of this Protocol the citizens of Bulgaria are thereby encouraged to take part in and help develop local democracy at the level where it touches their everyday lives most. The right to participate in the affairs of a local authority denotes in fact the right to seek to determine or to influence the exercise of a local authority's powers and responsibilities. This signature, only six month after the adoption of the recommendation by the Congress, shows that Bulgaria is an active member State of the Council of Europe which considers seriously the recommendations made to its authorities. So it is in my opinion a very positive sign.
Besides there is still much to be done that will require legislative initiative and political will on the part of Bulgaria in reply to our recommendations. The next step for the Bulgarian Government could be to withdraw the reservation in respect of Article 7, paragraph 2. Article 7 is about compensation for expenses incurred in the exercise of power for elected representatives and for any loss of earnings. The Local Self-Government and Local Administration Act, which is in force today in Bulgaria, ensures this condition and is de facto in accordance with the provisions of the Charter and there is no need to maintain this reservation any more.
Apart from this monitoring work, you also took part in the observation of the local elections in Bulgaria in October 2011. What were the Congress’ main recommendations?
Overall, the delegation concluded that the elections largely complied with European standards and were conducted in a calm and professional manner. It nevertheless identified some legislative, administrative and regulatory aspects which could do to be improved and issued corresponding recommendations.
I would also like to stress a number of points noted during the observation exercise, in particular the need to boost public confidence in the electoral process. For instance, the problem of vote buying and selling continues to be a major obstacle to public confidence in free and fair elections, in spite of the measures taken by the Bulgarian authorities (and praised by the delegation) to combat this serious problem by making it an offence under the criminal code.
The possibility of providing members of national minorities with election material in their mother tongue is also important.
Lastly, another very important point which we noted was the lack of proper rules governing media coverage of elections. It is necessary to introduce legal provisions to govern the allocation of free air time for candidates on public-service radio and television. There is also a need to introduce a legal framework for media coverage of elections in order to ensure both editorial freedom and fair coverage of election campaigning so that all candidates are placed on an equal footing.
The Congress must now maintain continuous political dialogue with the Bulgarian authorities, in particular with regard to the ongoing decentralisation process, and, in partnership with other Council of Europe institutions, must help them to strengthen electoral processes and implement these recommendations.