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Successful CSO advocacy effort in Bulgaria: Funding limitation for professional associations withdrawn

On July 26, the  amendments to the Judicial Systems Act related to the funding of associations of magistrates (judges, prosecutors, etc.) were withdrawn during second reading in the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs.

Earlier,  a group of Members of Parliament (MPs) from the ruling coalition introduced proposals to the Act, which among others also regulates associations of judges, prosecutors, and other such professional associations. One provision of the proposal sought to limit the funding of such organizations to only membership fees and donations from members, thereby prohibiting the receipt of grants, income from business activities, other donations, and foreign funding. The stated objective for this proposal was to preserve the independence of such organizations.

A number of civil society organizations advocated against the draft, as they believe such funding limitation would undermine the sustainability and independence of professional associations in Bulgaria. A wide public campaign was launched in which a group of 19 CSOs prepared official statement against the proposed changes. Even more CSOs sent a letter to several foreign ambassadors to inform them about the effect of this proposal (including on their future impossibility to support judicial reform efforts).

ECNL’s affiliate, the Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law (BCNL) joined both letters but also prepared a separate letter to Parliament to express its position against the funding limitations. BCNL also sent a letter to the Ministry of Justice to request that the Ministry present an official opinion including to make its assessment if the proposed changes would be in compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights, as this is a requirement for all draft laws proposed by the government but does not apply to draft laws proposed by MPs.

On July 26, the leader of the ruling party in Parliament announced that they will withdraw the proposals related to funding.