By Krassen Nikolov
“I am shocked when I am called ‘minister of justice’. But I will have to get used to it.”
That is how the new minister Danail Kirilov candidly commented his new key position in the Bulgarian government. He is not the only one “shocked” by the Prime Minister’s Boyko Borissov’s decision to replace Tsetska Tsacheva with him. Hristo Ivanov, former Justice Minister in the second government of Borissov, described the appointment as “loss of connection with reality”.
Many people at the European Commission are surely unpleasantly surprised too. The EU executive still expects political will and determination to continue the judicial reform in Bulgaria. However, Kirilov’s CV shows that even a timid reform effort in the direction Europe hopes for could not be expected from him. It’s exactly the opposite.
Danail Kirilov is a lawyer. His most famous successful case is as the lawyer of the former Bulgarian Prime Minister from the socialist party (BSP) Jean Videnov. His government led Bulgaria to hyperinflation in 1996. Then for a short time Kirilov became a municipal councilor from BSP in Sofia. He makes a U-turn and enters the ranks of the newly-formed GERB party of Boyko Borissov. That’s how he began to rise. Kirilov was appointed Regional Governor of Sofia, then became MP and Chairman of the Legal Commission in the National Assembly.
The blocked reform
“The Minister of Justice must guarantee the rule of law and be the guardian of the constitutional order. Danail Kirilov has proved that he is absolutely loyal to the corruption order and obeys the rule of the supremacy of Borissov’s and Tsvetanov’s law. It is either impudence or despair to nominate such a person at the time of the apartment scandal that made public the corruption in GERB. In any case it is a total loss of touch with the reality and the interests of the country,” said Hristo Ivanov, who is now co-chairman of the Democratic Bulgaria Coalition.
Hristo Ivanov has vivid memories of his conflicts with Danail Kirilov.
In December 2015 Kirilov was chairman of the legal committee in the parliament. At that time Hristo Ivanov’s ideas for judicial reform, which were highly appreciated by the European Commission, were suspended with the assistance of GERB. Ivanov, who was the justice minister at that time, presented a plan for reform in the Supreme Judicial Council that would make judges less dependent on the executive. Ivanov also proposed making the completely uncontrolled prosecution more accountable. In December 2015, the National Assembly voted for exactly the opposite. It left the judges to depend on the politically elected members of the Supreme Judicial Council. And no control was imposed on the Chief Prosecutor.
The best example of the “pro-European” attitude of Danail Kirilov is from the summer of 2017. As a GERB MP, Kirilov strongly supported a legislative amendment banning the international funding of judges and prosecutors’ organizations, including from European funds. The reason was pretty prosaic. The ruling party GERB strongly dislikes the pro-reformist ideas of the Bulgarian Judges Association. It is the largest judiciary organization in the country and has been fighting the status quo for years. The association relies on European and American funding. Making so that it loses this funding would mean blocking its activities.
The efforts of Danail Kirilov to pass the law have led to an international scandal and intervention by the US State Department. There was also a sharp reaction from the European Commission, which sent a letter to Danail Kirilov. The MP from GERB reacted disparagingly and read part of the letter to his colleagues in parliament.
“We are addressing you with a request to clarify the fears that this (the law) will affect the independence of the magistrates and the European funding,” Kirilov read from the letter. He expressed outrage that there was a deadline for the reply. “A secretary at their desk in Brussels is giving deadlines to a Bulgarian MP”, said Kirilov furiously. Eventually it came out that the e-mail was sent by a counselor in the European Commission, not by a secretary.
The Prime Minister Boyko Borissov ordered that the lobbyist amendment be withdrawn. It was bad PR just before the EU Council presidency. However, the anti-European initiatives of Danail Kirilov did not stop. Together with DPS and the United Patriots, he managed to block the European Commission’s monitoring on the Supreme Administrative Court.
Last February Danail Kirilov managed to pass a legislative amendment that removed the municipal councilors from the list of high-level officials obliged to declare their property publicly. This happened in spite of the European Commission which sent a letter asking the parliament not to abolish this anti-corruption measure.
Now, as a justice minister, Danail Kirilov is ordered by the Prime Minister to work against his own lobbyist amendment.
“The first task that I have (for Danail Kirilov) is putting the municipal councillors in the anti-corruption law. There is a letter from the European Commission (on this issue)”, Borissov said after nominating Kirilov.
The first task, which Danail Kirilov sets himself as a minister, is putting an end to the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) and the implementation of the Strategy for Judicial Reform. Attaining such goal is highly unlikely if he would continue in his usual style in his new position. The former minister Tsetska Tsacheva was overly passive and was rather trying not to create new political problems for Borissov than to demonstrate leadership. She resigned after she got involved in a scandal with a luxury apartment bought at suspiciously low price. Danail Kirilov certainly has the potential to create much greater trouble for the Prime Minister.