Bulgaria assumes EU presidency under cloud of concern over media freedom
Bulgaria assumed the six-month rotating EU presidency in January 2018. The country has the worst press freedom rating in the European Union, and as the transition took place, several political figures, activists, journalists and organisations sounded the alarm over threats to media freedom and independence in the country.
In December 2017, several opposition political parties published a declaration of their concern over how the current government has used its Commission for the Confiscation of Unlawfully Acquired Property (KONPI) to confiscate several media outlet owners' property. The parties claim that:
“the regime of Borissov, Tstatsarov and Peevski has transformed KONPI into an instrument of repression against the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression”.
Journalists raised the question of how the Bulgarian EU presidency will influence media freedom in a country - as Bulgarian journalists have been persecuted for their investigative reporting. For example, Bulgarian journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva was fired for publishing an investigation into weapons from the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Bulgaria that were shipped by the Azerbaijani Silk Way airline to Syria. This case is not an isolated incident as there have been other threats and allegations against journalists for doing their job. Observers are eager to see if any improvements will result from Bulgaria's hosting of the EU presidency for the next six months.
Following a January 2018 conference on media freedom in Bulgaria, the “White Paper on Freedom of the Media in Bulgaria" presented by the European Newspaper Publishers Association (ENPA) echoed concerns on the state of media freedom in the country. At the European Centre for Press & Media Freedom (ECPMF) in Brussels on 25th January, ENPA reiterated its commitment to and strong support for and its Bulgarian counterparts. It "stressed the urgent need to ensure and respect press freedom, media pluralism and editorial independence in Bulgaria".
My thoughts on #Bulgaria's #EU presidency for @euobs— Nicolas Tenzer (@NTenzer) January 26, 2018
Corruption, press-freedom, judiciary, #Russia's influence, rise of far-right (part of ruling coalition) are major concerns, though it isn't the most problematic country.
Certainly better in than out.https://t.co/nNLQ61Ks5T
ECHR rulings in three cases against the Bulgarian state
On 11th January 2018, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in favour of the applicants in the following three cases: United Macedonian Organisation Ilinden and Others v. Bulgaria; Yordan Ivanov and Others v. Bulgaria; and Kiril Ivanov v. Bulgaria. The applicants had filed complaints in regards to Article 11 - freedom of assembly and association - in the European Convention on Human Rights.
The first case goes back to 2006 when the Bulgarian authorities refused to register the United Macedonian Organisation Ilinden whose purpose was to gain recognition for the Macedonian minority in the country. The group appealed the government's decision and then took the case to the ECHR.
In early January 2018, thousands of Bulgarian citizens gathered to protest the authorities’ decision to allow tourism-related construction projects on protected national parks. The decision violates the Protected Areas Act and the European Habitats Directive. Protesters called for Environmental Minister Neno Dimev's resignation.The protests, under the slogan "For Nature!" began in the capital, Sofia, but soon spread to other cities and towns.
#Bulgaria : Thousands took part in a cold night protest against harsh and ill-drafted redevelopment plans for century-old woodland in Pirin nature reserve. Protesters called for the resignation of the Cabinet, echoing previous protest waves which toppled governments. #SavePirin pic.twitter.com/PIIhnqN41S— Maria Spirova (@MariaSpirova) January 4, 2018