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21st Sep 2020

Netherlands pushes for further EU sanctions against Bulgaria

Bulgaria could face further sanctions in the area of justice and home affairs, including having its membership of the EU's borderless Schengen area delayed, after recent reports from Brussels highlighted the country's problems with corruption.

A group of member states, including the UK, France and the Netherlands is pushing for tougher sanctions against Sofia, Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad reported on Thursday (17 July).

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While none have called for the activation of a clause that would result in the refusal to recognise decisions by Bulgarian courts throughout the EU – something that could eventually become a bigger headache for the bloc than for Bulgaria itself - the Hague, in particular, is pushing for delaying Bulgaria's membership of Schengen.

Sofia is not planning to join the EU's borderless area before 2011, but had hoped to participate in the zone's joint database - the so-called Schengen Information System – as early as this year. The EU could now block this, the paper reports.

The Dutch push comes ahead of the publication of Brussels' annual reports on justice and home affairs problems in Bulgaria and Romania next Wednesday (23 July) as part of its ongoing monitoring process of the Union's two newest member states.

Meanwhile, two documents this week – one from the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and a draft from the European Commission – have highlighted Bulgaria's persistent corruption problems.

In addition to the two justice and home affairs reports, the commission is set next week to also publish another on the management of EU funds in Bulgaria, harshly criticising the country's mishandling of the bloc's money and threatening it with losing millions of pre-accession funds for good.

Brussels is to call on Sofia "to cleanse its administration" and make sure that EU money is not "siphoned off by corrupt officials, operating together with organised crime."

Both reports, leaked to the media, have provoked an outcry in Bulgaria and opposition parties have called for a non-confidence vote against the government next week, in addition to starting an impeachment procedure against the president.

For its part, Romania will also be criticised in the commission's justice progress report next Wednesday, notably over the parliament's delay of inquiries into corruption cases involving a former prime minister and other top officials.

However, the criticism is expected to be less harsh than for Bulgaria and no additional document on how Bucharest spends EU funds is expected.

Both Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU on 1 January 2007.

Bulgaria under fire for corruption levels

The European Commission is next week to release a report harshly criticising Bulgaria for the way it has been handling EU funds, and suspend payments to two of the country's agencies charged with managing EU projects. The draft talks of organised crime, corrupt officials and an outdated administration.

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