The European Commission made public today (22 January) its monitoring reports on the progress of Bulgaria and Romania in reforming their deficient law-enforcement systems. The report on Romania appears to be much more positive than the one concerning its southern neighbour, with the EU executive noting “real commitment to reform”.
The reports were presented by Mark Gray, a familiar face in Bulgaria and Romania, as in his spokesperson capacity he has been conveying messages to those countries governments over the last seven years. Romania and Bulgaria are the only EU members to be monitored under a so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, or CVM, in reforming their law-enforcement (see background).
The report on Romania covers a 12-month period, while Bulgaria’s report covers 18 months. The reason is that 2012 for Romania was described as “annus horribilis”, due to the power struggle between the country’s president Traian Băsescu and the leftist government of prime minister Victor Ponta.
At that time, Commission President José Manuel Barroso went as far as saying that Romania had shaken EU’s trust. So the Commission issued one more report on Romania in January 2013, skipping the effort vis-à-vis Bulgaria.
But now the situation looks reversed, with Bulgaria being told that it broke its EU partners confidence over the attempt to appoint a controversial businessman as chief of the country’s State Agency for National Security (DANS), while Romania’s effort to reform received appraisal.
In a communiqué, Barroso is quoted as saying that the new report shows that Romania has taken “some significant steps”.
“Many people in the key judicial and integrity institutions have shown a real commitment to reform,” the Commission president said, adding that the report also shows a “not straightforward” progress and that “advances in one area can be negated by setbacks elsewhere”.
“I hope this report will clearly highlight what still needs to be done to pursue and consolidate reform and ensure a positive and sustainable trend," Barroso continued.
In comparison, the Commission president diplomatically regretted the lack of commitment to enforce the rule of law in Bulgaria, and added that “a political commitment to this approach, as well as concrete and practical measures in the short term, is the best way to bring the process forward”.
In the past, the Commission has been much more generous to Bulgaria, stressing in 2010 that it saw “political will” and a “strong momentum of reform”.
Asked by EurActiv to explain how the Commission made those political assessments about the presence or the lack of “political will”, European Commission spokesperson Mark Gray noted there was a discrepancy between the evaluation done five years after Bulgaria and Romania’s EU accession and the one that done more recently.
He added that the report cannot be seen as an assessment of the current government as it covers a period of 18-months, as three different cabinets have been in office in Bulgaria.
Regarding Romania, Gray stressed that the country had made progress in many areas and that the track record of the key judicial and integrity institutions had remained positive, “even in sometimes difficult circumstances”.
Gray alludes to an attempt of the Romanian parliament last December to amend the country’s criminal code, by introducing a so-called “super-immunity bill”, sheltering MPs from corruption charges. Although the attempt did not succeed, as it proved unconstitutional, it raised eyebrows in Brussels.
The spokesperson also said that necessary and long-awaited legislative changes have remained on track and the spirit of cooperation between judicial institutions and the Ministry of Justice was helping managerial issues to be tackled.
“In this sense, the situation is benefitting from the calmer political atmosphere since spring 2013”, Gray said.
However, the Romania report expresses concerns about judicial independence and the appointment of key figures in law-enforcing show a mixed picture, Gray said.
The next Commission reports will come in one year’s time.