Romanian Justice Minister C?t?lin Predoiu said his country had made unprecedented efforts to reform its law enforcement system, suggesting that Bucharest wanted to see the EU monitoring mechanism put in place five years ago removed by the summer.
Predoiu told journalists in Brussels yesterday (16 January) the main reason for his visit was to highlight the recent progress made on judicial reforms in his country.
Romania's judicial system is being monitored under a so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, put in place when it joined the EU five years ago (see Background).
Predoiu met with Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, as well as with Viviane Reding, Commission vice-president in charge of Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. He also met with Catherine Day, Commission secretary-general and coordinator for the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) set up for Romania and Bulgaria.
Predoiu said his talks had been of a technical nature, but among other things, the future of CVM had been discussed.
In its latest report, the Commission urged Romania and Bulgaria to upgrade their law enforcement systems within one year. Past this deadline, the Commission said it would table "appropriate proposals". Last year's report on Bulgaria and Romania differ more than ever, with a series of positive assessments on Romania while Bulgaria's record was strongly criticised.
Predoiu said he expected the next mid-term report – "due in the next two or three weeks" – to be of a technical nature, but appeared to suggest that the report due in the summer could put an end to the EU monitoring of his country.
"This summer report would be a kind of conclusion of the results of the application of the mechanism," he predicted.
The Commission has been very appreciative of "the successes of the last months," Predoiu said. He mentioned that Romania had received praise for its new Civil Code, due to come into force on 1 June, as well as on new measures on disciplinary responsibility of magistrates.
The anti-corruption strategy, elaborated by Romania's Justice Ministry, had been greatly appreciated by Malmström, Predoiu said, adding that the implementation of this strategy would be monitored along with the anti-corruption package at the European level.
Drawing from experience at EU level
On 6 June, the Commission unveiled its first-ever proposal to address corruption at the EU level. On this occasion, Malmström announced the establishment of an EU anti-corruption reporting system to identify "failures and vulnerabilities across the 27 EU member states". The mechanism is seen largely as drawing from the experience of monitoring Bulgaria and Romania.
Asked about Romani'as entry into the Schengen border free area, which has been blocked by the Netherlands due to insufficient progress on the CVM, Predoiu said the issue was touched upon "indirectly".
Neither Romania nor the Commission sees any link between the CVM and Schengen, Predoiu said. He added that regarding the position of the Netherlands, his country was using bilateral diplomatic channels to convey its messages about the need to reach a decision, compatible with EU treaties.
The Romanian minister also said that CVM had helped the reforms in his country, but what was needed was to make sure that these reforms become irreversible. He implied that he expected this objective to be reached before the summer report.
Asked by EurActiv if he thought Bulgaria could match the progress of Romania, he said Sofia had to meet two additional benchmarks, one of them being the "pretty serious" matter of organised crime.
Earlier this year, several bomb explosions have rocked the Bulgarian capital Sofia, coinciding with the visits of high EU officials and the publication of CVM reports. The culprits have not been apprehended.
When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU on 1 January 2007, shortcomings remained regarding judicial reform and the fight against corruption. In the case of Bulgaria, problems also remained regarding the fight against organised crime.
A Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) was set up to assist both countries with judiciary matters after their EU accession. Moreover, the European Commission retained the right to use special safeguards. These allow the EU to refuse to recognise court decisions or even freeze payments of EU funds.
However, starting 1 January 2010 Brussels no longer had the power to trigger the clause.
On 13 September 2010 EU countries decided to extend monitoring of Romania and Bulgaria for another year. On 20 July 2011 Romania and Bulgaria were again given one more year before the Commission tabling "appropriate proposals".