Romania praised for anti-corruption efforts, despite parliamentary reluctance


With a key European Commission monitoring report only two months away, this is no time for a slowdown in the fight against high-level corruption, EU officials warn.

By Gelu Trandafir for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 17/03/06


President Traian Basescu had to use his veto power to over-ride Senate rejection of an emergency law establishing the anti-corruption office. [Getty Images]

Romanian Justice Minister Monica Macovei does not hide her disappointment with the country's lawmakers. "Some members of parliament do not support the fight against corruption," she said recently, threatening to resign if she does not receive more political support.

Judicial reform and the fight against high-level corruption are critical to avoiding the postponement of Romania's accession to the EU, planned for 1 January 2007. But the MPs in Bucharest have not always shown themselves ready to keep pace with the minister, a former human rights activist. After the senate rejected an emergency ordinance establishing an anti-corruption office, President Traian Basescu had to use his veto power to keep the initiative alive. Finally, amid political negotiations and international pressure, parliament approved the office's work.

According to Macovei, parliament's resistance stems from "fear of the DNA," referring to the anti-corruption panel created in 2003 with EU assistance, but empowered only this past September by the centre-right government. Its mandate is to investigate high-level politicians, including members of parliament.

"We are beyond the period when we are talking plans and strategies and laws. Now it is real, the DNA is working, it is doing real cases," Reuters quoted Macovei as saying. Investigators are looking into senior political figures including former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and ex-Transport Minister Miron Mitrea, current Deputy Prime Minister George Copos and the influential businessman and Liberal politician Dinu Patriciu.

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Macovei has won strong backing from EU officials and influential foreign diplomats based in Bucharest. Earlier this month, in an interview with Cotidianul, European Commission Vice President Franco Frattini was sharply critical of parliament's stalling.

"Those who are playing this very strange game, are playing a game with the future of this country," Frattini said, adding that it would be a "disaster for Romania" if the justice minister is not backed fully by the government and the country's political groups.

With just two months to go before a key European Commission Monitoring report -- expected to recommend whether Romania should join the EU in January 2007, as planned, or see it entry delayed by a year -- the fight against corruption is at a critical point, says British Ambassador Quinton Quayle. The EU's safeguard clause could be invoked if Romania is not viewed as achieving enough progress.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has said he considers a 2007 entry feasible for both Romania and Bulgaria. However, he urged leaders and political figures in both countries to "to run the last 100 metres of the race and use all their energy to implement reforms, to show that nobody is beyond the law and to eradicate the high level corruption".

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