Six months after joining the European Union, Romania and Bulgaria have failed to demonstrate credible progress in fighting systemic corruption and organized crime, despite broad legislative reforms.
The lack of results is raising concern in Brussels and some EU states say the poor Balkan duo may have joined too early.
The new EU members are still subject to monitoring and face sanctions after a June 27 report from the European Commission if they do not meet requirements on combating abuse.
Both have revamped their justice systems and passed laws to set up graft-fighting institutions, in line with EU demands. But observers say results are stymied by hesitant policymakers, political feuds and ineffective state administration.
"We haven't seen any evidence of results, any impact on society," said one EU diplomat in Bucharest. "They should have produced more proof they are intent on fighting corruption at all levels."
Observers say fraud is so entrenched in the Romanian and Bulgarian establishment that many local politicians are reluctant to implement effective reforms. Judiciaries are often too close to crime groups and new laws lack implementation mechanisms.
Add deepening rifts within ruling parties as governments in Sofia and Bucharest watch their popularity sink, and reforms have all but stopped since the two joined the EU in January. In Romania, the architect of a sweeping overhaul of the judiciary, former Justice Minister Monica Macovei, lost her job in April due to bickering among top politicians. Observers say her replacement, Tudor Chiuariu, is weak and ineffective.
In Bulgaria, where organized crime is the key problem, civil society groups complain anti-graft legislation lacks concrete measures to combat abuse, while corrupt public procurement deals still siphon out millions of euros a year from the state budget.
The Socialist-led government has met most legislative demands from the EU but has shown little resolve to push for quick results in combating the country's powerful crime gangs.
Diplomats say public officials are often involved with groups connected to former secret services agents and running vast parts of Bulgaria's tiny economy. No one has been convicted for dozens of contract killings in recent years.
Instead, Sofia's top prosecutor recently said patience was needed to weed out fraud.