Remarks by Ambassador Kenneth Merten at Basel Institute Forum on Strengthening Transparency and Governance through Collective Action

October 10, 2023

Good morning, everybody!
Minister Vassilev,
Miss Fenner,

Thank you all for inviting me. It is a terrific honor and pleasure for me to join you for this part of the conference today. I really want to thank the Basel Institute and the Swiss-Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce, the American Chamber of Commerce, and all the other folks that have contributed to making this event happen today.

It is very encouraging to see the diversity of institutions and interests represented here as we consider an issue that is critical to shaping Bulgaria’s future and which serves as cornerstone for Bulgaria’s engagement with Bulgaria and around the world. And that is the rule of law.

Ensuring the transparent and consistent application of the law is not only essential to upholding our shared democratic values. It is also critical for promoting mutual prosperity. Among our embassy’s top priority is deepening and diversifying our trade and investment relationship with Bulgaria, yielding economic growth, knowledge exchange and, importantly, job creation on both sides of the Atlantic. Businesses thrive in environments defined by stability, transparency, and consistent application of laws and regulations.

Just last month Foreign Minister Gabriel led a delegation to Washington for our second bilateral Strategic Dialogue. The rule of law was an important topic on our agenda, and we discussed how the United States can continue to work together with Bulgaria to strengthen the rule of law.

In Bulgaria’s case it is important to recognize the significant progress that has been made particularly this year and in the recent past. In January the National Assembly adopted the Whistleblower Protection Act – a critical step in encouraging those who witness violations of the law to step forward without fear of retribution. In May, it passed legislation to enhance the accountability of the Prosecutor General. Most recently the Parliament passed a bill to reform the anticorruption commission as well as amendments to public procurement legislation to better align it with the OECD best practices we already heard this morning.

We are encouraged to see parliament consult with European Commission and other partners in crafting these various pieces of legislation. Experience around the world has demonstrated that early and meaningful consultations with the business community, academia and others yields better draft laws that are better calibrated to meet the challenges of today. That inclusive approach is just as essential when monitoring the effective implementation of those laws. I was pleased to see for example that the reforms to the anticorruption commission empower certain non-profit entities to nominate candidates for membership on that commission. Steps like this bring transparency and inclusivity to the candidate-selection process, increasing the likelihood that commissioners will be selected based on their merit and integrity rather than their political connections.

Bulgaria has taken meaningful steps forward. As in all countries there remain opportunities to further strengthen the rule of law and improve the business environment. Bulgaria’s eventual adoption of a robust investment-screening mechanism can further strengthen not only the security of critical infrastructure but also the attractiveness of the local market to credible business partners.

Here again, close coordination with the business community and the civil society is critical. Investment screening when done right attracts constructive foreign capital by preventing the inflow of corrosive capital. Upholding the rule of law is a task that each democratic society must fulfil for itself. And the government does not have to discharge this responsibility alone. As evidenced by this gathering here this morning, Bulgaria’s government and the parliament are surrounded by partners who are willing and well-positioned to support them in this endeavor.

The United States is proud to consider itself as one of those partners. We are committed to supporting Bulgaria as it carries out the reforms that are essential to fortifying its democratic institutions and promoting a prosperous economy.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to be with you today!

I am looking forward to the rest of the discussion.