(Jan. 29, 2009) Although Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007, it has been placed under a strict monitoring regime by the EU, with particular emphasis on the operation of the judiciary. Aid from the EU to the Bulgarian government has been cut substantially and there may even be further reductions in assistance if the system does not improve. A report on progress made will be issued in February 2009 by the European Commission, and close attention is being paid to a number of high-profile cases.
On January 20, 2009, the European Justice Commissioner, Jacques Barrot, criticized Bulgaria's justice system, stating that it was unable to efficiently catch and convict notorious criminals and that it “is producing very few tangible results.” The statement came out on the same day that a court in the Bulgarian city of Veliko Tarnovo failed to convict two men of a 2000 murder, despite what was considered to be clear evidence. (Bulgarian Justice System Again in Firing Line, AFP, Jan. 25, 2009, available at World News Connection No. 200901251477.1_a7ad0096cdc747c3.) The failure to convict was mentioned by the French Ambassador to Bulgaria, Etienne de Poncins, who in addition to expressing surprise at the decision complained about the procedure, including the fact that the proceedings were kept secret. (Id.)