Thursday, June 28, 2007

Frattini defends mild stance on Bulgaria and Romania

27.06.2007 - 17:44 CET | By Renata Goldirova

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – The European Commission's vice-president Franco Frattini has been forced by media to defend his apparently indulgent stance on Bulgaria and Romania's poor performance in the fight against corruption, while some MEPs stressed Brussels should have triggered sanctions against the two newest EU entrants.

"It is not a blaming and shaming exercise. Our reports are honest, fair and balanced," Mr Frattini told the press room on Wednesday (27 June), as he presented six-monthly evaluations of how Sofia and Bucharest are addressing shortcomings in their judicial systems, the fight against corruption and organised crime.

The two Balkan states were admitted to the EU bloc in January 2007, but only under unprecedented conditions, including regular monitoring of all sensitive areas with the possibility to apply penalties.

At this stage, however, Sofia and Bucharest both escaped sanctions, although the reports show that progress is visible mainly only on paper while implementation remains a weak point.

But the EU's executive body doesn't speak in one voice on the issue, with the college of 27 commissioners divided into two camps - one trying to highlight positive achievements, the other favouring tougher language.

Franco Frattini (Italy), Meglena Kuneva (Bulgaria), Leonard Orban (Romania), Olli Rehn (Finland), Charlie McCreevy (Ireland) and Jan Figel (Slovakia) were among those trying to sweeten the otherwise critical reports.

Mr Frattini, who is in charge of the home affairs dossier in the commission, defended such moves by saying it was necessary to choose "proper language" and "the post-accession approach."

It would be a mistake to use, for example, the word "monitoring," as the two countries are no longer candidates for EU membership, Mr Frattini argued, asking rhetorically "what kind of message [would] we send to the Bulgarian and Romanian population [if we said] you are under scrutiny?"

MEPs reservations
But some members of the European Parliament have criticized the EU's executive arm for failing to apply a more consistent policy vis-a-vis the two newest EU states.

According to German conservative MEP Elmar Brok, the commission's inconsistent behaviour might not only damage the EU's credibility, but could also undermine reform efforts in the two countries.

"The commission has not drawn the necessary consequences by activating the safeguard clauses provided for by the accession treaties. Instead, it has limited itself to observe both countries further until spring 2008," Mr Brok said.

He added that "At this point, it would have been possible to make a symbolic sign. Unfortunately, the commission did not seize this opportunity".

But according to Mr Frattini, the safeguard measures written in the accession treaties are an exceptional and last-resort tool. Nobody in the 27-member college tabled a proposal to trigger sanctions at this stage, he says.

The reports highlight what the two governments should do as well as giving them credit for what has been achieved, Mr Frattini argued, underlining that this is the way to treat an EU member.

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