Saturday

16th Feb 2019

Ten years on, Romania and Bulgaria still dogged by corruption

  • Iohannis joined the protestors opposing the government's plans to free prisoners, some jailed for corruption (Photo: Facebook profile)

Key recommendations on justice reform and the fight against corruption have still not been fulfilled by Romania and Bulgaria, despite some progress being made, the European Commission said in a monitoring report.

Assessing the trends over the last decade, the report published on Wednesday (25 January) concludes that while Romania can be credited for “major progress”, especially in its fight against high-level corruption, Bulgaria’s progress “has not been as fast as hoped for”.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The two countries joined the EU 10 years ago on 1 January 2007.

The reports on the so-called Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) are designed to push governments to root out corruption, cronyism, and organised crime.

Meeting EU requirements in these areas are a political pre-requisite for the two countries to join the passport-free Schengen zone.

The commission report notes that in Romania, “since 2013 the track record of the institutions involved in investigating, prosecuting and ruling on high-level corruption has been strong with regular indictments and conclusion of cases concerning politicians of all ranks and parties, as well as civil servants, magistrates and businessmen”.

Progress has been slower on the front in fighting lower level corruption. The commission emphasises the need for the forthcoming code of conduct for parliamentarians to include respect for the independence of the judiciary.

It also says rules for lifting the immunity of parliamentarians should become clearer to make sure they are not used to avoid justice.

The report and EU officials say the main test for Romania is to put in place internal guarantees that the achieved reforms are “irreversible”.

“The speed of this process [lifting the CVM process] depends on how quickly the Romanian authorities are able to take the remaining steps in an irreversible way, in a way that does not call into question the progress made so far,” commission vice-president Frans Timmermans said in a statement.

'The fight is on'

Irreversibility is at stake in Romania.

Plans introduced by the new Socialist government last Wednesday to decriminalise some offences and pardon some convicted prisoners through emergency decrees could undermine the crackdown on corruption.

The government says it wants to ease the country's overcrowded prisons.

The plans drew thousands of protestors to the streets in Bucharest.

The EU commission report highlights the issue in a footnote only, saying it “could affect the legal framework for corruption and the result of the fight against corruption”.

A commission official said the report is focusing on the long term, adding that the EU executive is “following events closely, but doesn’t comment on ongoing legislative procedure”.

Paul Ivan, from the European Policy Centre, a think tank in Brussels, told this website: “While overcrowding is a problem, nobody really believes that this was the real motivation behind the government’s proposals.”

He said the government’s way of putting the proposals forward in a non-transparent way, for instance having no discussion about them in the parliament, only reinforced the image that the party “is not interested in pragmatic solutions, but is driven by self-interest to free their colleagues”.

Romanian president Klaus Iohannis, who joined protesters over the weekend, said he would put the issue to a referendum, while the governing Socialist party threatened him with impeachment.

Ivan said however that the Socialists might not go that far, as it could be a politically very damaging move.

A commission official admitted the record is “never going to be 100 percent”, but EU experts are looking for a sustainable track record in judiciary and fight against corruption.

“The fight is on, it hasn’t been settled yet,” Ivan said on Romania’s current political impasse.

Extra push

In the meantime, Bulgaria is still lagging behind.

It needs to complete the implementation of a national anti-corruption strategy, to set up an anti-corruption authority, and reinforce the independence of the judiciary.

It also has to tackle the lack of final convictions in high-end organised crime cases.

Brussels expects the new government to make an extra push on reforms.

The commission is planning to put out another monitoring report in December. It wants to speed up the process to fullfill president Jean-Claude Juncker’s commitment to lift the CVMs before the end of his mandate.

“It is feasible for that to happen for the two countries within the target the president has set,” a commission official said.

Romania and Bulgaria will hold the EU's rotating presidency in 2018 and 2019, shedding extra light on them.

Once the commission gives the green light, other member states also need to agree that the countries, members of the EU for the past decade, have made enough progress.

Romanian president rejects PM designate

Social democrats and liberals said they could unseat the country's president - Klaus Iohannis - after he vetoed the nomination of a woman with alleged ties to Assad regime in Syria.

Croatia and Hungary are 'new face of corruption'

Transparency International said the crackdown on civil society in Croatia and Hungary "under the guise of a nationalist, ‘illiberal’ agenda" represented the new face of corruption in Europe.

News in Brief

  1. Spain's Sanchez calls snap election on 28 April
  2. 15,000 Belgian school kids march against climate change
  3. May suffers fresh Brexit defeat in parliament
  4. Warning for British banks over Brexit staff relocation
  5. Former Italian PM wants Merkel for top EU post
  6. Antisemitic incidents up 10% in Germany
  7. Italy's asylum rejection rate at record high
  8. Hungary will not claim EU funds for fraudulent project

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Latest News

  1. Sluggish procedure against Hungary back on table
  2. Could Finnish presidency fix labour-chain abuse?
  3. Brexit and trip to Egypt for Arab League This WEEK
  4. Belgian spy scandal puts EU and Nato at risk
  5. EU Parliament demands Saudi lobby transparency
  6. Saudi Arabia, but not Russia, on EU 'dirty money' list
  7. EU agrees draft copyright reform, riling tech giants
  8. Rutte warns EU to embrace 'Realpolitik' foreign policy

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  8. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  9. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  11. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  12. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us