Bulgaria and Romania have made progress in the areas of judicial reform and the fight against corruption over the past five years, but need to do more, the European Commission said.
By Svetla Dimitrova for Southeast European Times in Sofia -- 23/07/12
A judge reads the sentence in a corruption case during a court session in Bucharest. Judicial reform and the fight against corruption are the main areas that EC will monitor in the country. [Reuters]
Bulgaria and Romania will continue to be monitored closely until they meet the benchmarks under the co-operation and verification mechanism that was set up for them when they joined the EU in 2007, the European Commission (EC) said.
The unprecedented mechanism was established for the two Balkan nations ahead of their accession to help them address weaknesses in the areas of judicial reform, the fight against corruption and -- in the case of Bulgaria -- tackling organised crime.
"Progress has been made in both Bulgaria and Romania, but the process is not yet sustainable and irreversible," EC spokesman Mark Gray said in Brussels on Wednesday (July 18th), as he presented the EU executive arm's reports on the two countries' progress. "The focus is very much now on shifting to implementation."
The Commission was particularly harsh on Bucharest, voicing serious concern over a series of controversial moves by the country's new left-wing ruling coalition in recent weeks, including the suspension of President Traian Basescu and attempts to curb the attributions of the Constitutional Court.
"Events in Romania have shaken our trust," EC President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a special statement ahead of the presentation of the reports. "Challenging judicial decisions, undermining the constitutional court, overturning established procedures and removing key checks and balances have called into question the government's commitment to respect the rule of law. Party political strife cannot justify overriding core democratic principles."
Just days before the release of the progress reports, the EC sent Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta an 11-point to do list, demanding that the powers of the Constitutional Court be restored and its rulings be implemented. It also insisted that interim President Crin Antonescu does not issue any presidential pardons.
Barroso told reporters in Brussels that Ponta had "confirmed in writing his agreement to implement" the EC's 11 demands.
"We will continue to monitor the situation closely and I have asked for a further report to be prepared on Romania by the end of the year," he said. "In this report, we will look at whether our concerns regarding the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary have been addressed."
Ponta described last week's assessment as "balanced" and objective. Some of the findings in the Romanian report were that the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) and the National Integrity Agency (ANI) have made convincing progress in the fight against high-level corruption and that a solid national anti-corruption strategy was now being implemented.
The report on Bulgaria noted that key judicial institutions, such as the Supreme Judicial Council and its inspectorate, have been operating since 2007 and that specialised bodies have been set up to deal with critical issues like organised crime. The country has also improved its asset forfeiture legislation and has created a commission on conflict of interest.
But it noted that there are "weaknesses in judicial and investigative practice, in particular in relation to cases involving high-level corruption and serious organised crime."
The EC also said that "activity against organised crime intensified in 2010," but added that "convincing results are still missing" with many cases in this area still unsolved and delayed.
"Europol considers organised crime in Bulgaria as unique in the EU to the extent that it exercises considerable influence over the economy which is a platform to influence the political process and state institutions," the EC said.
The most important finding was "the lack of direction in policy," Evgeniy Dainov, a professor in political science at the New Bulgarian University, told SETimes. He also said that the technical wording of the previous reports has given place to "political language" in the new one.
The EC will publish its next assessment of Bulgaria's progress at the end of 2013, in order to give the country more time to show convincing results.
"They are simply waiting for the next government, as the current one has deceived them, just as it has deceived all of us here," Dainov said, in an apparent reference to Bulgaria's next parliamentary elections in summer 2013.
According to Sofia resident Tsonio Danchev, "Neither the previous three-way ruling coalition, nor the current government, have taken effective measures to deal with shady structures. I can only guess if this is due to a lack of will, or because of deepening and increasing collusion between the two sides."