Saturday

28th Nov 2020

EU commission defends Romania-Bulgaria monitoring project

  • Statue in Sofia: Judges in Bulgaria and Romania are too lenient in dealing with corruption, the report said (Photo: sludgegulper)

The European Commission on Tuesday (23 March) defended its special monitoring project on the rule of law in Bulgaria and Romania, despite the limited results registered three years after the two countries joined the bloc.

"The European Commission urges authorities in Bulgaria and Romania to step up their efforts especially in turning arrests and indictments into final sentences," Mark Gray, the commission's spokesman said, while presenting the latest bi-annual reports on the two countries' justice systems.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Three years after joining the EU the two countries still have "a lot of work" ahead and have failed to produce any convictions in high level corruption cases, while regular graft is still punished with "lenient" sentences, the reports said.

The findings raise the question as to the utility of the commission's monitoring exercise, since the systematic criticism seems to have had little impact in Sofia and Bucharest.

Both Bulgaria and Romania agreed in 2007 as they joined the EU to be subject to unprecedented monitoring from the European Commission in order to stem corruption and organised crime networks. After joining, however, the commission's leverage for progress fell away.

Initially set up for a maximum of three years, the scrutiny was extended last year for an indefinite period, despite lobbying from both capitals to draw up an exit strategy.

Mr Gray defended the monitoring system as a "valuable instrument in keeping the reform process on track" and highlighted some of the successes - keeping alive the special anti-corruption prosecution unit in Romania and issuing new laws on conflict of interests and fraud in Bulgaria.

The new government in Sofia, which came to power last summer precisely on an anti-corruption platform, has adopted some of the recommendations made by Brussels in the past years, such as joint investigation teams on the abuse of EU funds and organised crime. But the commission is still cautious in its praise and has stressed the need to see more results on the ground.

In Romania, on the other hand, politicians had little interest in reforms in the second half of 2009, as they were busy campaigning for the presidential elections. Only the special anti-corruption prosecutors are praised for keeping a steady level of new investigations and indictments.

"Acting upon all recommendations of the European Commission should become a matter of national priority," Mr Gray stressed. Bulgaria still needs to undergo profound judicial reforms, while Romania's magistrates need to be spurred further to modernise the system, he added.

One-off

A similar monitoring system for the next country in line to join the EU - Croatia - is not currently being considered, the spokesman said.

"Our clear desire is that necessary reforms are done before accession," Mr Gray stressed.

His defence of the continued monitoring was shared by both MEPs and NGOs dealing with organised crime and corruption.

"Repeated criticism doesn't mean useless criticism, but a path towards change," Romanian centre-right MEP Monica Macovei told this website.

A former minister of justice before and shortly after Romania joined the EU, Ms Macovei argued that judicial co-operation in the EU is based on mutual trust and "there will be no trust in the Romanian justice system unless some changes happen."

Transparency International, a watchdog dealing with corruption issues, also welcomed the commission's assessment and stressed the need "to ensure the irreversible separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judiciary."

No funds frozen

Although there is no direct linkage between the judicial monitoring and distribution of EU funds, in 2008, the commission froze hundreds of millions of euro, mostly for Bulgaria, due to bogus projects and corrupt networks tapping community money.

Payments have since been resumed for both countries, Mr Gray said, after they put in place better control mechanisms. Environment projects in Bulgaria have been suspended however, due to irregularities in the public tenders.

"There is a need to apply the lessons learned, for better management of funds and to strengthen the judiciary to sanction fraud," Mr Gray noted.

'Golden Passports': Malta takes 67 days to respond to EU

The European Commission exchanged 24 letters with Bulgaria, Cyprus and Malta over their 'Golden Passports' schemes between October 2019 and October 2020. Malta took 67 days to respond to the commission's first letter, followed by Cyprus (42) then Bulgaria.

EU to target migrant integration and encrypted apps

Migrants ought to learn EU languages and "integrate" their children, while encrypted messaging apps should give keys to authorities to combat terrorism, EU ministers are preparing to say.

EU Commission: EU free-travel overhaul planned

Plans to reform the EU free-travel zone were already announced in September by the European Commission. On Friday, it re-stated those intentions following demands by the French president for a major overhaul.

News in Brief

  1. Brexit talks pick up pace once more
  2. MEPs back US trade detente
  3. Iran diplomat to stand trial in Belgium over 'France bomb plot'
  4. Trump says he'll leave if Biden wins Electoral College vote
  5. EU Parliament: Polish abortion ban risks womens' lives
  6. UN experts warn against racial profiling
  7. EU auditors raise red flag over maritime protection
  8. Four students charged in France's beheading case

Opinion

Rule-of-law deal: major step for Europe of values

At the very moment when an incumbent president across the Atlantic was carrying out staggering attacks on the foundations of democracy, the European Parliament obtained a historic agreement to protect the rule of law in Europe.

EU to target migrant integration and encrypted apps

Migrants ought to learn EU languages and "integrate" their children, while encrypted messaging apps should give keys to authorities to combat terrorism, EU ministers are preparing to say.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  2. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  4. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector

Latest News

  1. Erdoğan jails hundreds for life, as EU weighs relations
  2. Italian energy giant director advising EU foreign policy chief
  3. Poland and Hungary say rule-of-law link needs treaty change
  4. Portuguese presidency to focus on social rights and India
  5. The under-reported power struggle at the top of the OSCE
  6. Poland hammered on women's rights in EU debate
  7. EU 'front-line' states want clearer migration rules
  8. Von der Leyen tells Poland and Hungary to go to court

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us