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2nd Jul 2022

MEPs turn screw on Romania and Bulgaria corruption

MEPs on Thursday (23 April) asked the commission to draft special reports by 15 July on the management of EU funds in Bulgaria and Romania, amid worries over judicial standards and organised crime.

Expressing "serious concern" over the financial interests of EU taxpayers, the parliament requested "zero tolerance" in cases of misuse of EU money, fraud and corruption.

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The demand was formulated as part of the approval given to the European Commission's overall accounts for 2007, in a report adopted by 431 votes in favour and 46 against.

Bulgaria and Romania, which joined in 2007, are still under commission scrutiny via a "co-operation and verification mechanism" which monitors reforms in justice and home affairs.

The commission last year avoided publicly linking a decision to freeze €500 million of EU money for Bulgaria and €142 million for Romania with justice reforms, even though the moves came amid fears of feeding organised crime and corruption.

But in a document sent by the EU executive to parliament on 8 April, the commission stated that "releasing funds is of course dependent on the evolution of the legislative and judiciary environment and on the progress on the specific action plans."

Commission spokesman Mark Gray on Thursday declined to say if the executive will take up parliament's request for special reports.

Romanian justice minister Catalin Predoiu also said Thursday that he was aware a funds-reforms linkage could be applied to Bucharest, but that Brussels had not taken a decision yet.

German MEP Markus Ferber stressed the linkage is the only leverage the EU has left. "We ask for this special report in order to underline that the only means of pressure we have is to freeze the funds," he told EUobserver.

Another German MEP, Ingeborg Grassle, a member of the budgetary control committee, said that "eagerness for reform in both countries is very tempered. But in Romania, the situation is worrying because it is getting worse. The government needs to step up the reforms and this special report will keep the pressure on them."

On the Bulgarian side, the call for new reports were seen as extra monitoring. "I am extremely disappointed with this decision because to me it actually means new monitoring on Bulgaria," Bulgarian MEP Marusya Lubchev said.

Commission escapes censure

The final text adopted on Thursday excluded a controversial amendment accusing the European Commission of having "misled" the EU public and parliament about the two countries' previous readiness to join the bloc.

Initially introduced by two Socialist MEPs from Portugal and Denmark, the amendment said the countries had not fulfilled the so-called Copenhagen criteria on EU eligibility in areas including rule of law.

MEPs kept a softer version of this amendment, saying that the commission had not treated the two countries readiness to absorb funds "with the necessary seriousness" and that in this context the EU executive had "misleading" statements and actions.

In reply, the commission said parliament and member states accepted their accession under special safeguard clauses, including the possibility of postponing accession by one year.

"The irregularities in the management of pre-accession funds in Bulgaria since 2007, and in Romania in 2008, came to light thanks to the commission's controls. They are evidence therefore of the effectiveness of the mechanisms in place and the Commission's supervisory activities," Mr Gray said.

MEPs also criticised the monitoring mechanism the commission created for the pair, as well as "the relevance and reliability of the information supplied" to the parliament's budgetary control committee.

The mechanism was managed by several commission directorates under the supervision of the body's general secretariat, but its combined efforts were "inadequate," MEPs said.

Pegasus spyware makers grilled by MEPs

"We will not continue to work with a customer that is targeting a journalist illegally," Chaim Gelfand, chief compliance officer of NSO Group told MEPs — but shed little light on EU governments' use of its Pegasus spyware.

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