By Judith Crosbie
The European Commission has warned that Bulgaria and Romania must step up efforts in the fight against corruption and has said it will continue to monitor both states until at least June next year.
But the progress reports, published yesterday (27 June), do not recommend triggering a safeguard clause, under which decisions by Bulgarian and Romanian courts would not be recognised elsewhere in the EU.
Both countries were relieved at the Commission’s decision not to recommend sanctions but were disappointed at the continuation of the monitoring. They had hoped a final report would be delivered at the end of the year.
Yesterday’s reports will be updated at the end of the year and a new report will be published in mid-2008.
The Commission criticised both states for “insufficient” efforts to tackle high-level corruption. Bulgaria has adopted a programme for addressing this problems but “it remains unclear whether measures to protect potential whistleblowers have been effectively implemented”. The report adds: “There is little evidence of rigorous and systematic judicial follow-up on allegations of high-level corruption.
Bulgaria was also criticised for lack of progress on fighting organised crime. An updated action plan on the problem has been implemented but data that would allow an assessment of how judges treat such cases is “patchy or inadequate”.
Romania has brought in a specialised prosecution service for corruption but judges have handed down several suspended sentences in high-level corruption cases. “The rationale for these suspensions…needs to be clarified,” says the report. The Commission also says it is concerned about recent events in Romania, such as the decriminalisation of bank fraud, parliament’s intention to shorten the maximum duration for investigations and the dismissal of a senior member of the corruption prosecution service.
Commission Vice-President Franco Frattini, in charge of justice, as well as Romania’s and Bulgaria’s commissioners, Leonard Orban and Meglena Kuneva, sought to tone down the report’s conclusions during discussions in the College. But the main message of the report remained the same in the report’s final version.
German MEP Elmar Brok, a member of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, has requested the Commission to apply a more consistent policy to Bulgaria and Romania. Brok deplores the fact that although the Commission criticises deficits in both country’s judicial systems and the fight against corruption, “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”.
Brok, former Parliament rapporteur for enlargement, accused the Commission of succeeding “only in talking and not in acting”.