Wednesday, June 27, 2007

EU Says Romania, Bulgaria Fail to Tackle Graft, Crime

By Adam Brown

June 27 (Bloomberg) -- The European Commission said Bulgaria and Romania must intensify their fight against corruption and organized crime or face curbs on their rights as members of the European Union.

The Balkan nations, the poorest and newest members of the EU, have passed laws to combat crime and graft in the past six months and must now ensure they are enforced, the commission said in a report released today.

``High-level corruption is still one point of weakness,'' Franco Frattini, the EU justice commissioner, told a news conference today in Brussels. ``We have to be honest, we have to be transparent, we have to stress also areas where progress still has to be made.''

Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU on Jan. 1, extending the union's borders to the Black Sea, after the commission decided the countries had upgraded regulatory standards enough to avert a one-year delay in membership. A lack of progress in the new member states may raise concern about EU entry bids of other countries in southeast Europe, including Croatia, which also face calls to fight crime and corruption.

During membership talks with Romania and Bulgaria, the commission repeatedly warned Romania to better fight corruption and told Bulgaria to intensify its fight against organized crime and contract killings.

New Report

Frattini said the commission will issue a new report on Bulgaria and Romania in 12 months. In the meantime, the EU will monitor the nations' steps toward fighting corruption and organized crime and improving the safety of food supplies and airlines.

``I would expect Romania and Bulgaria to meet the benchmarks'' by June 2008, Frattini said. ``They have adopted the laws necessary to get results. Now the focus is on implementation.''

Romania is rated by independent monitor Transparency International as the most corrupt nation in the EU, while Bulgaria has seen a continuation of contract killings since it joined the union.

In Romania, two former cabinet ministers and an ex-prime minister are under investigation on allegations of corruption, which they deny. Parliament also passed in May a new law creating an agency with the power to verify public officials' declarations of assets.

Lawmakers in Bulgaria, with Europe's highest per-capita rate of organized-crime killings, passed constitutional amendments in February meant to increase the independence of the judiciary and enable it to fight organized crime better.

`Real Test'

The Romanian and Bulgarian governments have ``prepared the necessary draft laws, action plans and programs,'' the commission said. ``However, the real test can only be met through determined implementation of these into action on the ground every day. There is still a clear weakness in translating these intentions into results.''

The report also set four goals, or benchmarks, for each country, to be reviewed in its report in a year. Bulgaria must further increase independence, professionalism and transparency of its justice system and conduct ``professional, non-partisan investigations into allegations of high-level corruption,'' according to the report.

Romania has to increase accountability of public officials and judges, further investigate allegations of corruption against senior officials and improve efforts to fight graft in regional and municipal governments, the commission said.

Airline Safety

In the report, the commission said Bulgaria must also improve airline safety. The nation's carriers have been treated as non-EU airlines since the country joined the EU and Bulgaria was ``capable of applying neither community nor Joint Aviation Authority rules on the safety of aeronautical products and maintenance.''

The commission also called on Romania to improve food safety and animal disease-prevention and restricted the country from trading horses with other EU members.

``In the meat, fish and milk sectors, transitional measures have been granted to a large number of establishments and they are allowed to market only on the national market in Romania,'' the commission said.

Romania stands to receive as much as 32 billion euros ($43 billion) in EU funds through 2013, while Bulgaria, with a smaller population, can receive as much as 11 billion euros. The per-capita gross domestic product of the two countries is about a third of the EU average.

The entry of Bulgaria and Romania marked the EU's second expansion into the former Soviet bloc to establish market-based rules for industries ranging from energy and transport to telecommunications and banking. Ten countries, including Poland and seven other nations in formerly communist eastern Europe, joined in May 2004 and swelled the bloc's population to about 460 million.

To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Brown in Bucharest at abrown23@bloomberg.net .

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