Bulgaria's parliament voted Friday to maintain a controversial anti-corruption bill that the president had refused to sign into law.
The bill, which was first approved by lawmakers in December, calls for streamlining the country's anti-corruption bureaucracy by folding several agencies into one in order to better track the fight against corruption among high ranking officials.
Anti-corruption reforms have been pushed for by Brussels, which still closely tracks Sofia's efforts to crackdown on corruption 11 years after joining the European Union. It is the EU's poorest country and widely considered to be its most corrupt. The new anti-corruption agency will also have the authority to seize illegally acquired funds and property.
The bill's passage was delayed because President Rumen Radev effectively vetoed the bill by refusing to sign it. He questioned the bill's efficiency and criticized it for not offering any protection to whistleblowers, which he said makes anonymous tips virtually impossible.
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Radev also took issue with the creation of a new five-member board responsible for overseeing the new agency. The president said he feared political interference as board members are to be elected by parliament.
Overriding presidential veto
The lawmakers were obligated to review the law in light of the president's refusal to sign it but they were not bound to make any changes — and they opted to leave the bill as it was when it passed last month.
The governing coalition holds a narrow majority, with 122 mandates in the 240 seat chamber but some members of the opposition crossed over to back the bill. Ultimately 146 MPs backed the measure, with only the Socialists — 76 votes — opposing it.
"After we rejected the president's veto, our country will meet the commitments to the European Union," Tsvetan Tsvetanov of the ruling conservative GERB party said.
Radev, who was elected in 2015 with the backing of the Socialists, is now constitutionally bound to approve the bill.
"There is no political will for a real, thorough and effective fight against corruption," Radev said earlier this week. "Obviously this fight will have to continue to be fought by people and the media."
The bill's passage comes one day after Bulgaria took over the EU's six-month rotating presidency.
bik/sms (AFP, dpa)