The government argues four years of supervision is enough, but some analysts and EC members disagree.
By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 04/08/11
Romanian Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu described Knapen’s comments as “unacceptable”. [Victor Barbu/SETimes]
Despite the relative progress on judicial reform in Romania mentioned in the latest report by the European Commission (EC), Bucharest stands a slim chance of evading the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (MCV) in place since the country joined the EU, analysts tell SETimes.
The latest report acknowledges Romania "has taken important steps" in observing recommendations the EC made last year and took "significant measures to improve the judicial procedures". Brussels also praised the National Anti-corruption Department (DNA) for "convincing results in investigating and taking proceedings against the high level corruption cases, which led to an increase of sentences".
Then comes the bad news. "Despite this progress, consistency and results in a number of areas remain a challenge," reads the report.
"Several important high-level cases remain delayed in court for several years and have also seen little movement during this period. Urgent action must be taken to accelerate these trials and prevent them being struck down because of reaching statute-barred periods." The report also urges "better results" in confiscating questionable assets.
"The report is in my opinion positive, and certifies progress achieved lately," President Traian Basescu said at a press conference after the July 20th release of the report.
"The main message is that Romania has started having autonomous institutions that have started functioning and that are not politically subordinated," he said, crediting the four years of the MCV. He stressed, however, that it is unfair for the MCV to be associated with the Schengen area accession criteria.
Next year, the European Commission will make a general evaluation of the progress achieved by both Romania and Bulgaria, using this to decide whether the MCV will remain in place. Given the generally positive conclusions, some Romanian politicians predict it will go.
But the Netherlands delivered a wake-up call the very day the reports on both countries were published. "The rule of law hasn't reached the desired level in Romania or Bulgaria", said Dutch Minister of European Affairs Ben Knapen, suggesting that progress has been difficult.
Some experts say the MCV must be preserved. "Romania has been willing to get rid of this mechanism ever since the first day," Laura Stefan, justice expert with the think tank Romanian Academic Society, tells SETimes.
"No doubt next year will be very difficult, with intense negotiations between the Romanian government and the European Commission," she said, noting it will be an election year and the mandates of both the General-Prosecutor and the DNA General-Prosecutor expire.
"The MCV is Romania's chance. Without it, Romania would have dismantled the anti-corruption institutions. If there's still a fight being led against corruption in Romania, it is because of this European Commission's mechanism," Stefan added.
"Parliament refuses to approve investigations concerning current and former ministers, the politicians stand beside those investigated and not the investigators. So what's now going on in Romania brings grist to the mill of those who criticise Romania," she noted, a reference to the Netherlands.
Victor Alistar, executive director of Transparency International Romania, seems to agree.
"It is good to still have a pressure instrument because of the lack of political will in Bucharest, without which we would return to the moment right after the EU accession in 2007 when the rhythm of reforms was drastically decreased," he tells SETimes.
"Romania should have done its homework, so that countries that want to keep us out of the Schengen area wouldn't have reasons to do this. Instead, we have unfortunately offered enough grounds for the conservative states of the EU, which they are currently successfully using against us," he adds.