Equality of access
The country score of Bulgaria on the indicator “equality of access” is relatively low – 38%
There is still much to be done to make access to the policy process much more equal for all stakeholders. The existing legal framework allows for citizens and the public (corporations and civic organisations) to provide input to parliament. Yet it does not make explicit provisions to ensure equal access, sufficient notice and time to receive this input. Varied means for public participation in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of policies are provided for in the existing legislation. Furthermore, the legal framework explicitly requires public authorities to ensure equal participation by all affected groups and stakeholders in decision-making processes. In practice, the most routinely used forms of public participation are informal consultation with selected groups. These include public notice and calling for comment, public meetings, online consultations on proposals, advisory and expert groups and preparatory public committees. In principle, consultations are often open to any member of the public.
Meanwhile, key deficiencies in the legislation process obstruct transparency and active input from all stakeholders. This creates an uneven “playing field” for interest representation. It also runs the risk of possible over-representation of private interests or interest groups, which may exert implicit pressures on the system. These deficiencies concern both the normative framework and the process of its implementation.
Unpacking the results – how can this performance be explained?
The study assesses the equality of access of lobbying activity using the following indicators:
- Consultation and Public Participation in Decision-making: 50%
- Advisory/Expert Group Composition: 25%
A key legislative deficit is related to the lack of adequate normative requirement for motivation of legislation. The Law on Normative Acts stipulates vague and ineffective requirements. In practice the law allows for bringing draft legislation to parliament with motives which lack content and even lack basic financial considerations.
The limited use of impact assessment for draft legislation contributes to a process of concurrent amendment of legislation. Unpredictable and constantly changing legislation, however, is a major obstacle for doing business in Bulgaria. According to representative surveys, unpredictable legislation is among the three most often quoted obstacles to doing business in the country.
The legal framework on the composition and transparency of advisory and expert groups cannot guarantee effective public oversight. A key deficit concerns the lack of transparency of their activities. The lack of legislative regulation of their composition is also cause for concern. There is a high level of discretion in the process of composition of these consultative bodies. It is usually decided upon at ministerial level in the specific sector. However, this is not the only problem. The issue stems from the lack of legislative obligation to publicly announce the early intention to develop draft legislation or policy proposals. This limitation creates a difficulty for the institution in question to identify the appropriate experts to participate in the working groups on a particular issue. Yet if a preliminary concept was announced early on in the decision-making process, it would create the opportunity for an adequate reaction on the part of stakeholders. This in turn means that the institution could outline the necessary circle of expertise to employ in the process. This would also effectively limit time wasted in which working groups debate on issues without the full range of necessary expertise. It would help to avoid cases in which important stakeholders are only included when the final draft legislation or policy has already been adopted.