Bulgaria – A new presidential power?

Bulgaria has recently been debating the appointment of judges to the Constitutional Court.

Art. 147 of the Constitution states: “The Constitutional Court shall consist of 12 judges, one-third of whom shall be elected by the National Assembly, one-third shall be appointed by the President, and one-third shall be elected by a joint meeting of the judges of the Supreme Court of Cassation and the Supreme Administrative Court.” In addition, Art. 6 of the Constitutional Court Act states: “(1) The Constitutional Court justices shall assume their duties upon taking the following oath of office: ‘In assuming my duties as a justice of the Constitutional Court, I do solemnly swear to observe faithfully my duties as assigned to me by the Constitution and the Constitutional Court Act. I have sworn.’ (2) Each justice shall take the oath of office not later than one month after his appointment or choosing in the presence of the Chairman of the National Assembly, the President and the Chairmen of Supreme Court of Appeals and the Supreme Administrative Court.”

Last week, three new appointments were due to be made. The nominees from the judiciary and president each took their oaths and were approved. However, when the time came for the nominee from the legislature to take her oath, President Rosen Plevneliev left the room. This meant that the oath could not be taken in front of him and, therefore, the judge’s appointment was not made.

President Plevneliev was opposed to the appointment of Veneta Markovska. She has been the subject of graft allegations. However, in the context of this blog, what is interesting is the expression of presidential power. The power to veto the appointment of a Supreme Court nominee is not in the Constitution and it is not explicitly present in the Constitutional Court Act. However, the President’s interpretation of the Act has, seemingly, granted him a new power.

The political reaction to the President’s veto has been interesting. Parliament has immediately started the selection process for a new nominee. Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has also applauded President Plevneliev’s action. So, there is a sense that the President was acting with the support of the political community.

However, it is interesting to speculate whether there would have been the same reaction had the previous president acted similarly. Prior to President Plevneliev’s election, there was a period of cohabitation. There could have been a different political reaction had the then president tried to exercise a veto power in this way.

It is also interesting to speculate whether President Plevneliev’s action sets a precedent. Perhaps in the future the Chairman of the National Assembly will walk out when the president’s nominee comes to take the oath. During a period of cohabitation, President Plevneliev’s precedent could make the process of government very difficult indeed.

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