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25th Mar 2019

Bulgaria and Romania criticised for corruption levels

The European Commission will today (4 February) criticise Bulgaria and Romania for their lacklustre fight against corruption and crime – but will stop short of calling for sanctions against the countries.

The two interim documents on Sofia and Bucharest's progress in the field of justice and home affairs set to be adopted today – and seen by EUobserver – highlight the specific areas where the commission thinks the countries are lagging behind.

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Both Romania and Bulgaria have failed to present "convincing results" in the fight against high-level corruption, while Bulgaria needs to improve its handling of organised crime.

"The commission's analysis of a sample of high-profile cases [of organised crime] registered shows that only one case has been finalised since 2000 and half of the cases are still at the investigation stage," according to the Bulgarian document.

Sofia should also strengthen "actions to fight corruption within local government and vulnerable sectors such as healthcare and education," the commission concludes.

For its part, Romania is being asked to focus on tackling high-level corruption.

"In the past six months several of these cases which involve serving or former members of the government have been sent back by the courts to the prosecution on grounds of procedural errors," the Romanian document reads.

In addition, Bucharest should look into delays noted in "implementing a coherent recruitment strategy for the judiciary, in the establishment of a National Integrity Agency [responsible for verifying assets, incompatibilities and potential conflicts of interest] and in developing an overall strategy and implementing flagship projects to fight local corruption", it adds.

But despite the criticism and regardless of the fact that it came to similar conclusions in its first monitoring reports issued in June 2007, Brussels has steered away from the sanctions option.

The aim of the interim reports is primarily to serve as a "factual assessment of the situation" before the annual overall progress reports planned for July, an EU source said on Friday (1 February), underlining "we do not deal with safeguard clauses now."

According to the countries' accession treaties – documents outlining the terms of their membership – if Sofia and Bucharest fall short of EU standards in certain areas, such as the economy, the internal market, and justice and home affairs, the EU can decide to impose certain safeguard measures.

One consequence of this could be a refusal to recognise decisions by Bulgarian and Romanian courts throughout the EU – a humiliating step for fully fledged member states.

The two countries' accession package set out the closest-ever monitoring imposed on a country joining the bloc. This followed concern in some national capitals that the two countries were not sufficiently prepared when they joined on 1 January last year.

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