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19th Aug 2019

Romania and Bulgaria lagging behind on reforms

  • The Dutch oppose Bulgaria and Romania's admission to the passport-free Schengen area so long as corruption persists in the two countries (Photo: European Commission)

Bulgaria and Romania still need to do more to tackle corruption and organised crime, the European Commission said Wednesday (8 February), in a refrain familiar since the two countries joined the EU almost five years ago.

The European Commission reports, which are published twice a year, focus on a number of benchmarks that need to be addressed or improved upon.

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And while Brussels notes that both countries have made "significant" steps to improve their judiciary systems, outstanding issues remain.

Bulgaria's courts and its prosecution services have improved but its courts still need to deliver more convincing results on corruption and organised crime.

Six magistrates were acquitted by court in six cases related to corruption and abuse of office in 2011, with another 28 magistrates currently involved in 27 other criminal proceedings. Ten have so far been convicted with another six receiving suspended sentences.

The report also highlights allegations of electoral fraud, made by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, following the Bulgarian presidential and local elections of last October.

For its part, Romania still needs to improve its judicial transparency, tackle conflicts of interest, and continue its struggle against high- and low-level corruption.

High-level corruption trials may have accelerated but over 60 percent of sentences are suspended and most verdicts remain close to the legal minimum, states the report. Around 158 final court decisions were made in 2011, up from 85 in 2010.

The commission noted Romania’s decision in November to exclude any politician under investigation of fraud from his or her party. However, the commission also remarked that six members of Romania’s parliament with convictions of corruption are still sitting members.

On a more positive note, Romania has adopted legislation that strengthens the judiciary by increasing sanctions and the independence of its judicial inspectors.

Enough progress for the Dutch?

While the reports and their contents have become more routine with time, they have important political consequences for Bulgaria and Romania’s hopes to join the EU’s borderless Schengen area.

The two issues are not connected but the Netherlands has linked them in order to pressure Bucharest and Sofia to clean up their acts.

Dutch Europe Minister Ben Knapen on Wednesday gave a downbeat interpretation of the reports, noting that while progress may have been made, especially in Romania, “more needs to be done.”

"The Netherlands seeks two consecutive positive reports which indicate sustainable and irreversible progress to combat corruption and organised crime. We will see in July, following the full report of the European commission, whether this then has been the case," he said.

The European Parliament said both countries fulfilled the Schengen criteria last year, but the Netherlands blocked their entry in December.

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