What is your perception of Romanian corruption? How serious do you think this problem really is?
The fact that Romania scored 2.9 in our 2004 corruption perception index shows that corruption is indeed a very serious problem for Romania. The scores - in a scale between one and ten - are based on twelve international and comparative surveys conducted by serious and prestigious organisations from the Economist Intelligence Unit to the World Economic Forum.
Other analyses from the World Bank to the Group of States against corruption (GRECO) review corroborate the findings of our Corruptions Perception Index (CPI). Corruption is a very real problem for Romania. Any suggestion that it is only " perception" or an " image issue" is wrong.
After your visit on the ground, how serious do you think the authorities' plans are?
Generally speaking, in central and eastern Europe, one must be somewhat sceptical about high profile anti-corruption campaigns. There has been a rash of anti-corruption initiatives in the post-communist transition countries. Over the years, countless numbers of anti-corruption "task forces, committees, councils, action plans" and their like have been set up mainly for public relations purposes. This kind of window-dressing has further undermined the credibility of anti-corruption campaigns.
In addition, anti-corruption sells very well in the political markets: we had seen many political entrepreneurs - even the most corrupt ones - trying to sell themselves as anti-corruption crusaders. In this rather cynical climate of central and eastern Europe, it is not so easy to come up with genuine anti-corruption reforms. I think this applies to the new plan of the current Romanian government as well.
My test to assess any anti-corruption reform plan is very simple. It contains two questions: 1. Is it part of a comprehensive macro-economic reform package? 2. Do the institutions responsible for the fight against corruption have real power and independence? If we can answer these two questions with a yes, we can say the anti-corruption package is serious. It is too early for me to assess the most recent anti-corruption package in Romania. However, based on what I know about the new initiative, I believe it is serious.
In the European institutions there were loud voices opposing Romania's accession, triggered by the current level of corruption. What do you think about the idea that the whole country should be punished by delaying accession, as some MEPs have recently demanded?
My view is that endemic corruption points to the fact that something is deeply wrong in how citizens interact with their governments, or the other way around, how governments treat their citizens . After all, corruption is about the quality of politics and public life. Therefore, I would take these warnings from Strasbourg and Brussels very seriously and I would not blame them for their criticism.
What other actions would you recommend? In addition to isolated and well-publicised proceedings against corrupt individuals, how can the administrative and political culture of a country be changed?
Without over dramatising the issue, I think that the new Romanian government has a relatively short window of opportunity to change the mood in the country. The new leaders should convince the general public that they mean what they say. They should demonstrate that a new era with new rules has started. Attacking the embedded corrupt networks is always risky. Personal leadership is key.
As soon as the public sees that the new political leaders are different, they will support them in their anti-corruption efforts. Bold reforms further reducing state intervention in the economy will reduce corruption in the long run. But politicians need short-term dividends for political survival. That is why demonstrating political will by personal example is so important.
Is there a risk that - once Romania is fully 'in' - the pressure coming from the outside to 'clean up' will be less and not more?
It is true, external pressure driven by the accession process was very useful to push the political class towards making deep-seated reforms as opposed to short-term measures. We have seen it in all of the 2004 accession countries. This pressure will be gone as soon as you are 'in'. That is why it so important that the EU itself sets up clearer anti-corruption policies and standards for itself as well.
How would you compare Romania with recent EU accession countries, both today and in the way in which they have evolved in the last few years? Why is it that Bulgaria, on a similar accession schedule to Romania, has less of an image problem these days? What can be learnt from the evolution of these other countries?
It is true, among the recent EU accession countries, Romania has the worst score in our corruption index. Bulgaria ( 4.1), Croatia (3.5) and even Turkey (3.2) performed better. Both Bulgaria and Croatia were 'late starters' with reforms. However, they managed to catch up relatively quickly because I believe there was a stronger consensus within the political elite about the necessary reform agenda.