Thursday

30th Mar 2017

EU not tackling corruption in east, say justice experts

  • A view of Zagreb, where EU leverage against organised crime and widespread corruption is not working properly, according to a panel of justice experts. (Photo: wikipedia)

The EU should use the most of its pre-accession leverage in pushing countries to reform and deliver results in the fight against corruption and organised crime before they join the club, not to repeat the experience of Romania and Bulgaria, who are still struggling with these issues two years after accession, a panel of European justice experts told a conference in the European Parliament.

EU member states Romania and Bulgaria have more in common with candidate countries such as Croatia and other potential candidates in the western Balkans than just a shared Communist past, said a range of jurists and commentators brought together under at the International Leaders' Summit, a talk-fest organised by conservative US and European think-tanks, including the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The speakers said that much of the east is also afflicted by "widespread corruption", "organised crime", conflicts of interests and unjustifiable wealth of senior officials, lack of political accountability and a culture of impunity in public administration.

The list of criticisms was long, but, they declared, the EU seems ill equipped to do something about it.

"There are clear regional characteristics that appear across eastern Europe and the risk is that the lessons we learn in one country as it develops are not transferred to the next country," British prosecutor Rupert Vining said.

"We repeatedly see difficulties around party finances," he continued. "We also see the issue of possession of unexplained wealth by senior public figures."

Mr Vining worked as an expert on combating corruption in "peer review" missions on behalf of the European Commission to assess the situation in Romania and Bulgaria during their accession process, as well as in the now candidate country Croatia and potential candidate Montenegro.

He told the audience that he had thought before he went that it would be difficult to explain to the people in the region what unjustified assets meant and how they could be dealt with.

"But instead, I had no difficulty at all, because in each country I worked, people could immediately think of examples of who had what and how they couldn't possibly afford it on the €300 to €600 salary they were earning per month," Mr Vining said.

The British prosecutor stressed that the EU does not have unified rules and procedures on issues such as party financing. Still, that was no reason not to reform and impose as much transparency as possible, he said, because there was a "new era now, and people in the EU are getting tired of accession candidates who don't apply the appropriate standards and then backslide when they join the EU."

At the same time, Mr Vining argued that it was not realistic to believe that accession candidate countries can "fry the big fish", or deliver convictions in complex cases of high-level corruption in the very short time frame ahead of accession, especially since the people concerned are in power or connected to high-ranking officials.

Monica Macovei, a former Romanian justice minister acclaimed by the European Commission and the European Parliament for her reforms on the eve of EU accession, also stressed the difficulties of "fighting political corruption in a country where corrupt politicians have the power to change laws and adopt measures to protect themselves."

The former minister, a member of no political party and fired just four months after accession during a cabinet reshuffle, said that after Romania joined the EU, the politicians started to "undo" the reforms started only a couple of years before.

Ms Macovei said the pre-accession period was the only time the EU had enough leverage to push for actual reforms and obtain first results.

Yet a Croatian panelist, Natasha Srdoc from the pro-free-market Adriatic Institute of Public Policy, denounced the "very soft report" published by the European Commission earlier this month on the progress of her country.

She criticised the perspective of concluding negotiations by the end of 2009 - a schedule suggested by enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn, and denounced the recent contract killings of critical journalists, and the "widespread corruption" noted in the commission report.

She also warned of the strength of organised crime in the country, saying there was a "much stronger underground network than in Serbia, [and this] includes the intelligence services."

"There is not enough pressure now to reform before accession to the EU and NATO. Once a country is in the EU, the chances for reforms are lost," Ms Srdoc said, demanding "international monitoring" of Croatia, as the authorities were, in her view, incapable of dealing with these challenges.

Murder of Croatian reporter undermines EU hopes

Following the killing of a prominent investigative reporter, Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader has vowed to put a stop to mafia-style attacks in order to save the country's EU bid.

EU trying to salvage US deal on data privacy

Privacy safeguards for EU citizens' personal data that is sent to the United States remains exposed to abuse, due to the lack of oversight and the shift towards increased surveillance under president Trump.

Thirteen states join EU prosecutor's office

Justice ministers from 13 EU member states have confirmed they will take part in the European Public Prosecutor's Office with another three set to join in the next few days.

LuxLeaks forces discussion on EU-wide protections

LuxLeak whistleblower Antoine Deltour is urging justice ministers to help put in place rules to protect people across Europe who leak confidential information for the public good.

News in Brief

  1. UK publishes 'Great Repeal Bill' plan to replace EU laws
  2. Scots share May's vision for Brexit deal, survey says
  3. Coalition talks leader expects Dutch government by summer
  4. EU commission allows ex-member Hill to join law firm
  5. Reuters: Greece and lenders move closer to deal
  6. Italy: Le Pen win would mean 'permanent political risk'
  7. Danish parliament misinformed on Nord Stream 1
  8. UK delivered its Article 50 letter to the EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  2. The Idealist QuarterlyCan Progressive Stories Survive Our Post-Truth Era? After-Work Discussion on 6 April
  3. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  4. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  5. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  6. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  7. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads
  9. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  10. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  11. Malta EU 2017Council Adopts New Rules to Improve Safety of Medical Devices
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy

Latest News

  1. Hungary attempts to stifle Soros-founded university in Budapest
  2. European right shows divisions on EU values after Brexit
  3. Transparency is key EU tactic in Brexit talks
  4. Russia building 'arc of iron' around Europe
  5. Französische und deutsche Wahlen 'entscheidend' für Putin
  6. EU trying to salvage US deal on data privacy
  7. MEPs draw 'red lines' on Brexit deal
  8. MEPs call for reset in relations with Belarus

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Party of European SocialistsWe Must Renew Europe for All Europeans
  2. MEP Tomáš ZdechovskýThe European Commission Has Failed in Its Fight Against Food Waste
  3. ILGA-EuropeEP Recognises Discrimination Faced by Trans & Intersex People
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers25 Nordic Bioeconomy Cases for Sustainable Change
  5. European Free AllianceSupporting Artur Mas: Democracy and Freedom Cannot Be Convicted
  6. UNICEFSyria Conflict 6 Years On: Children's Suffering at Its Worst
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsDomestic Violence in Tajikistan: Time to Right the Wrongs
  8. European Trust SummitCorporate Strategy and Public Affairs in a Low-Trust World - Conference 31 May
  9. Malta EU 2017Agreement Reached to Involve Consumers in Financial Services Policymaking
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cities Gather Against Violent Extremism & Introduce Nordic Safe Cities
  11. World VisionFears and Dreams of Syria's Children and Their Peers Around the World
  12. Mission of China to the EUEU Window Chinese Government Academic Scholarship 2017/18 - Apply Now