Having consistently made ‘technical’ progress, Bulgaria and Romania need help to crack down on corruption, the European Commission said on 22 July with the publication of its annual monitoring reports, pledging further support while the two EU newcomers remain under scrutiny.
“Cross-party political support” is needed to deal with high-profile corruption cases in Romania, where the country’s parliament is seen as providing shelter from prosecution to politicians, and “stronger political support” is expected from the new Bulgarian government in fighting corruption and organised crime, the reports state.
The two carefully-worded eight-page reports on each country, coupled with two 16-page supporting documents, convey the message that the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), put in place with the two countries’ EU accession in January 2007, is starting to bear fruit.
For Romania, the Commission notes that the country’s authorities have reacted effectively to concerns raised by previous assessments (EURACTIV 13/02/09), while in the case of Bulgaria, a “positive change of attitude” is seen. In the recent past, the country was in such a state of conflict with the EU executive that it leaked confidential EU papers to the press (EURACTIV 17/07/09).
As for Bulgaria, the Commission sets out 21 tasks that must be carried out, ranging from developing an integrated strategy against organised crime and corruption to publishing all court decisions. In the case of Romania, the to-do list consists of 16 items, from adopting new civil and criminal procedure codes to ensuring that parliamentarians are not excluded from criminal investigations.
Carrot or stick?
The EU executive made it plain that monitoring would stay in place until all law enforcement deficiencies are eliminated. Sources told EURACTIV that the Commission had considered linking the removal of the CVM with the two countries’ accession to Schengen, but after a discussion, the idea was abandoned. Bulgaria and Romania have both expressed their ambition to join the borderless Schengen area by 2011.
Commission spokesperson Johannes Laitenberger explained that the commissioners had decided to treat monitoring and Schengen as separate issues, as no legal factual link exists between them.
But sources said that opinions within the college diverged over whether linking the admission to Schengen would be seen in Sofia and Bucharest as a ‘carrot’ or a ‘stick’. Amid demands from some countries for the Commission to be tough on the two newcomers (EURACTIV 18/06/09), the EU executive abandoned all references to Schengen.
Bulgaria had feared that the Commission would propose using the safeguard clause in the judicial field, which would de facto invalidate the country’s court decisions in the eyes of jurisdictions in other EU member states. As leaked copies of the report reached Sofia and revealed no such threat, several officials enthusiastically welcomed the report even before it was published.
The Romanian reaction was more critical. Romanian MEPs blasted the report even before it was published (EURACTIV 17/07/09), and Victor Ponta, minister for relations with the Parliament, called the CVM an “outdated and inadequate bureaucratic instrument”.
As some countries, including France, had indicated that the CVM needed to be “fine-tuned” (EURACTIV 30/06/09), the Commission now recognises that “further assistance” is needed to support the reform processes in Bulgaria and Romania. The next report is expected in a year’s time, and in the autumn a separate report on EU funding to the two newcomers is foreseen.