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26th Sep 2020

Corruption in Bulgaria and Romania still unpunished, EU says

Corruption in Bulgaria and Romania continues to not be properly pursued by the judiciary, with cases taking too long and judges themselves prone to taking bribes, the EU commission said Wednesday (20 July).

In both countries, the judiciary is too slow and often lets high level corruption cases drag on for so long that the suspects walk free as their alleged deeds reach the statute of limitations, the EU commission said in its latest reports under the so-called Co-operation and Verification Mechanism.

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  • Both countries still have to deliver on convictions of former ministers and corrupt judge (Photo: Flickr)

The unprecedented monitoring was put in place in 2007 because neither country was judged fit enough to be given a clean bill of health with regard to how corruption and in Bulgaria's case, organised crime, is being dealt with.

Four years on, despite some legislative improvements and prosecutors launching a series of high-level corruption cases, both countries still have to deliver on convictions of former ministers and corrupt judges, as well as organised crime lords and money launderers in Bulgaria.

"Since last summer, a number of acquittals in high level corruption cases, fraud and organised crime have exposed serious deficiencies in judicial practice in Bulgaria. These deficiencies have not been properly followed up," EU commission spokesman Mark Gray said when presenting the reports.

As for Romania, he said there was an urgent need for high-level corruption cases to be tried, since they are soon reaching statute of limitations.

"We've seen a number of significant improvements during these four years, which would not have taken place without the mechanism," Gray argued in defence of the monitoring exercise.

The EU commission also said it would make an "overall assessment" in the summer of 2012 with "all options on the table": to end the monitoring for both countries, just for one or to continue it for both.

The reports are likely to give more "ammunition" to migration-wary countries - notably the Netherlands and France - which have said they wanted to see the reports on corruption before taking a decision on Romania and Bulgaria's entry to the border-free Schengen zone.

Interior ministers in June decided that although the two countries had met all the technical criteria to join Schengen, a decision on their entry should be delayed until September, after the commission publishes the reports on corruption.

In an initial reaction, Dutch junior minister for EU affairs Ben Knapen said that his country "acknowledges the great efforts" made by the two countries and the "small steps forward", but still considers that "more concrete results are required."

"The rule of law has not yet reached the desired level in either Bulgaria or Romania," Knapen said in a press statement.

A possible decision by Spain to introduce labour-market restrictions for Bulgarians and Romanians, as reported by El Pais, may further fuel the sentiment that the two countries should be excluded for as long as possible from the benefits of the internal market and border-free area.

Home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom on Wednesday warned against mixing up different issues and stressed that corruption-monitoring "is not at all linked" to the decision to expand Schengen.

"But of course, some made this link," she said, in reference to France and Germany who wrote a joint letter in December 2010 warning against the "premature" Schengen membership of Bulgaria and Romania so long as corruption is still an issue.

Regarding the review of the monitoring mechanism in 2012 and a possible de-coupling of the two countries, Malmstrom said that "the reports are not copy pasted, in some areas Romania is better off, in others, Bulgaria."

"Technically, they could be decoupled, one could imagine one country entering Schengen alone, but in practice this would be more difficult, because they would have to construct borders between themselves," she said.

As whether there is trust in the people guarding the EU's external borders, Malmstrom said that at the moment, "it's not only about trust in Bulgaria and Romania, the question is of trust in Schengen as a whole."

"We are now working on proposals on how to strengthen Schengen evaluation, how to identify weaknesses early on and how to have more tools in place," Malmstrom said.

These measures also aim to circumvent the need to trigger a so-called safeguard mechanism re-instating internal EU border controls.

Pushed by France, the idea of having internal border checks is meanwhile a no-go for all other member states, EU diplomats say, including Denmark who has recently come under fire from the commission for its enhanced customs controls at the German and Swedish borders.

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