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Open discussion: The National Assembly – a Guarantee for a Responsible State
On 15 October 2008 the Center for the Study of Democracy together with the Bulgarian National Assembly organized an open discussion entitled The National Assembly – a Guarantee for a Responsible State. Members of Parliament, the Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria, Constitutional Court justices and members of the Supreme Judicial Council, academics, representative of non-governmental organizations and journalists attended the meeting.

In his introductory remarks before the participants, the Speaker of the National Assembly Mr. Georgi Pirinski reminded them that, on the same date one hundred years before, the Parliament heard the speech of the monarch on the announcement of Bulgaria’s independence. On this occasion, Mr. Pirinski noted the necessity to re-consider the notion of independence in the context of today’s globalizing world and concluded that responsible government meant complementarity between the state and the civil society.

Dr. Maria Yordanova, Director of the Law Program of the Center for the Study of Democracy, looked at the role of civil society in parliamentary democracy. She indicated that civil society should be corrective and opposition of government, but also its constructive partner. Dr. Yordanova illustrated by several examples from the work of the Center the opportunities for effective cooperation between the non-profit sector and the state and recommended that more efforts be made from both sides for the development of sustainable and productive partnership.

Ambassador Robert Gelbard, Senior Advisor on Foreign Policy to Democratic Presidential Candidate Senator Barack Obama and former Presidential Envoy to the Balkans, presented the mechanisms the US had for guaranteeing a responsible state. He emphasized the importance of the principle of separation of powers and specifically noted that, whenever there was need for the state to start exercising a new function, the practice in the United States was to assign the new function to one of the existing institutions, while European states usually created new institutions. Ambassador Gelbard reviewed some specific mechanisms, through which the US Congress controlled the activities of the executive, for example the approval of the allocation of budget funds; the hearing of high-ranking officials and their liability in case they refused to appear; the procedure of impeachment of the President and higher magistrates, etc. In conclusion, Ambassador Gelbard underlined the role of political will as the most important pre-requisite for the effectiveness of all those mechanisms.

Ms. Rositza Stoyanova from the Institute of History at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences reviewed the amendments of Bulgarian Constitution, made on the occasion of the announcement of Bulgaria’s independence by the Fifth Grand National Assembly in 1911. The participants in the discussion also received the report of Dr. Yordanka Gesheva from the Institute of History at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, entitled The 14th National Assembly and Ensuring Bulgaria’s Independence in 1908 – 1909.

The responsibility of the National Assembly for the independence of the country in the modern world was the topic of the intervention of Associate Professor Dr. Dinko Dinkov from the International Relations Department of the University of National and World Economy. According to Dr. Dinkov, the National Assembly should guarantee the harmony between the state policy and the interests of the sovereign. He also elaborated on the new meaning of the notions of independence and sovereignty in today’s environment and on the fact that legislation was no longer created by the state will, but was also taking into account supranational interests. In conclusion, Dr. Dinkov indicated the necessity to strengthen the analytical capacity of the National Assembly, which would allow adequate transposal of EU directives instead of mechanical translation and incorporation into existing law.

Mr. Ivan Krastev, Chair of the Board of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, looked at the possible reasons for the low public trust in the work of the Parliament and noted that those were primarily the ineffective system of political parties in the country (the lack of discernible ideological differences among them) and the paneuropean tendency for strengthening the role of the executive at the expense of the legislative branch. According to Mr. Krastev, one possible solution for this situation could be for the Parliament to accentuate two of its strongest roles – to socialize (de-radicalize) the growing radical political movements and to exercise parliamentary control over specific actions of the executive.

Prof. Snezhana Nacheva, Constitutional Court Justice, emphasized the vital role of the Parliament for the rule of law and elaborated on the mechanisms of control over the work of the legislative branch. According to Prof. Nacheva, it is only the Constitution, which stands above the Parliament, and that is why the Constitutional Court is the institution to rein the National Assembly in case of a constitutional violation. Prof. Nacheva also listed the consequences of declaring a law unconstitutional and argued that the lack of a norm, regulating those consequences, was rather an advantage than a disadvantage, because it gave the Parliament different options to rectify the mistake made. She commended the express provision in the Regulation on the Organization and Activity of the National Assembly, obligating the Parliament, in case the Constitutional Court declared a law or a part thereof unconstitutional, to regulate the legal consequences within two months after the decision of the Court entered into force. In conclusion, Prof. Nacheva noted that the notion of constitutionality was changing under the influence of European integration and a number of EU acts, especially those of the primary EU law, already had priority over the national constitutions of Member States.

During the discussion, Associate Professor Alexander Kyosev, lecturer in history of arts at the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, observed that responsibility could be seen as a burden for its bearer, as a right and an obligation to give answers and as a necessity to exercise control. According to him, public opinion has been replaced lately by the opinion of the media on institutions and, in order to overcome this situation, the National Assembly should find mechanisms for an open dialogue with citizens.

Ms. Zornitza Ilieva, Chief Expert at the National Assembly, spoke on the issue of the risks for the legal order in a situation of an ineffective judiciary.

During the closing of the event, the participants supported the idea that the open discussion was very useful and should only be the start of a series of events, where important issues, concerning the relations between Parliament and the civil society, could be discussed.

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