June 27, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- European Union newcomers Bulgaria and Romania got some tough criticism today from the European Commission.
The EU's executive body told the Balkan states that they have made insufficient progress in fighting corruption -- and that they risk sanctions in the future if they do not meet detailed benchmarks.
"High-level corruption is still one point of weakness. Both the governments are aware of this," European Commission Vice President Franco Frattini told a news conference in Brussels.
Earlier, the commission issued its six-month survey on the Balkan newcomers in meeting benchmarks on judicial reform, corruption, and organized crime under their EU accession treaty.
"Our aim is to help Romania and Bulgaria to deliver, to get results, not [to] point fingers or accusing or blaming," Frattini added.
'No Room For Complacency'
Nonetheless, there was plenty of blame for both countries, even if Frattini credited each with "good-will and determination."
The survey by the European Commission warned them that there is no room for complacency despite some progress they have made in remedying weaknesses on justice and home affairs.
However, the commission said it was too early either to decide on possible sanctions, or to remove that threat. Both countries joined the bloc in January.
The report saw corruption as a key problem that continues to plague both countries. It noted that, "Contract killings continue to be of great concern, and in particular most recent killings of local politicians since January. To date no prosecution and conviction has taken place."
Sofia was seen as meeting only one key benchmark. It passed a constitutional amendment to establish an independent and accountability judiciary. Bulgaria also made some progress toward transparency in its judicial process, improving the professionalism and efficiency of judges.
Reason For Optimism?
Frattini said that while the overall picture remains unsatisfactory, there is reason for optimism. He said their "good-will and determination" are the "concrete elements that are necessary to get results. That's why I can say both [countries] deserve our confidence. We trust Bulgarian and Romania not only because they are EU member states, but because they are cooperating with the verification and cooperation mechanism."
Romania and Bulgaria have another chance to impress -- or disappoint -- later this year, when the EU executive is due to report again on their ability to administer and absorb regional EU aid and agricultural subsidies.
EU officials say that if things don't improve by then, they might have to withhold some money from Brussels.