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EU parliament chastises Bulgaria for rule of law deficiencies

BRUSSELS, Oct 8 (Reuters) - The European Parliament on Thursday chastised Bulgaria for flaws in respecting the rule of law, combating endemic corruption and supporting media freedom, underlining the legislature’s line on defending the bloc’s democratic principles.

EU lawmakers voted 358 to 277 with 56 abstentions in favour of a resolution that challenges Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s governance after almost three months of anti-graft protests in Bulgaria.

“The European Parliament deeply regrets that the developments in Bulgaria have led to significant deterioration of respect for the principles of rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights, including the independence of the judiciary, separation of powers, the fight against corruption and freedom of the media,” the resolution said.

Thousands of Bulgarians have rallied daily since July, accusing three-times premier Borissov of eroding democratic rules and allowing corrupt practices that support oligarchs and businesses close to his centre-right GERB party.

The resolution also slams Bulgaria, the EU’s poorest member, for backsliding on democratic values and abuse of EU funds, inhumane prison conditions, hostility to women, people of Romani origin, LGBTI people and other minority groups.

Bulgaria ranks as the EU’s most corrupt member according to Transparency International’s index. The country has dropped to 111th in terms of media freedom from 51st in 2007 when it joined the EU, according to Reporters Without Borders.

The resolution has no practical consequences other than political embarrassment for Borissov.

But it may strengthen the EU parliament’s position in talks with EU governments about the next long-term budget and recovery plan. Lawmakers have demanded that only governments respecting the rule of law be eligible for EU money.

Unlike Hungary and Poland, Bulgaria has avoided formal EU action by promising changes and setting up bodies to combat graft and overhaul the judiciary. But it has dragged its feet.

Last week the European Commission criticised Bulgaria’s shortcomings on courts’ independence and the lack of senior officials jailed on corruption charges in its first report on rule of law in the EU. (Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Hugh Lawson)