Tuesday, June 26, 2007

EU Commission critical of Romania and Bulgaria

Source: Radio Netherlands Worldwide

Romania and Bulgaria last year received the green light from the European Commission, but now the green light has turned to yellow. Brussels is critical of reform efforts so far by the new member states in the areas of justice and corruption, but finds it still too early for concrete sanctions.

It has been well demonstrated that the presidency of the Bulgarian football club Lokomotiv Plovdiv is no healthy job. Last month Alexander Tasev was found with two bullets in his head at the entrance to his house, meaning that for the third time in three years this football club had lost its Chairman as a consequence of liquidations in the crime scene. It's hot in the Bulgarian underworld, and the judiciary and the police appear to have no control over it. That's also one of the main criticisms raised by the European Commission in a report that came out on Wednesday.

Romania, as well as Bulgaria, is showing insufficient progress in the fight against corruption and reforming legal powers. The reforms look good on paper, but fail to be carried out, according to the report. The Commission is especially critical of the impotence of Bulgaria in getting to grips with organized crime. Liquidations are common, but are rarely solved.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev signalled at the beginning of this month that the fight against corruption would become a 'national priority'. "Bulgaria will very shortly produce concrete results in the fight against top level corruption", promised Public Prosecutor Margareta Popova, who said she valued a critical glance from Brussels. "As a Public Ministry we want to operate independently. Pressure from the European Commission is for us a guarantee that this will happen."

Political chaos
Since their accession on 1 January, Romania and Bulgaria have landed in troubled waters. With EU membership in the bag, suddenly Pandora's box appears to have been opened. A government crisis in Romania led to the departure of Justice Minister Monica Macovei, the only minister in whom Brussels had much trust as an active opponent of corruption. Her Bulgarian colleague gave up the post at the beginning of this month for 'personal reasons'. The Bulgarian government has for several months been involved in a sizable corruption scandal.

The political chaos in the new member countries was, for a number of countries including the Netherlands, reason to express their concern over the progress of the promised reforms. The Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maxime Verhagen, recently expressed her hope that the Commission would act more toughly against the new member countries. There was also criticism of the responsible European Commissioner of Justice, Franco Frattini. His credibility reportedly took a blow when he went skiing with the Bulgarian Secretary of the Interior, Rumen Petkov.

To prevent the new member countries from slipping backwards after accession, the Commission has decided to consider the possibility of imposing sanctions such as the withdrawal of subsidies, and the introduction of so-called opt-out clauses, by means of which a member country can be excluded from participation in a particular policy area. This is possible until three year after accession. At the moment, Bulgaria already has an opt-out clause in the area of air travel. Because the Bulgarian air inspectorate do not satisfy all at the Commission's rules, Bulgarian airlines do not enjoy unrestricted access to European airspace - a measure that remains temporarily in force.

But now Brussels wants to have similar measures in its pocket in the areas of the judiciary and policing. Both countries have been given another six months to show an improvement in results. This demonstrates that the Commission wants to avoid coming down too hard on countries that are full members. In addition, sanctions would also mean a loss of face for the Commission, which granted full membership to both countries at a time when many doubted that they would be able to get their affairs in order in a timely manner.

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