Monday, February 4, 2008

Bulgaria and Romania unruffled by Brussels' corruption criticism

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – Bulgaria and Romania have shown little concern over criticism by the European Commission that they are failing to do enough to tackle corruption levels.

The commission on Monday (4 February) issued two interim reports on Bulgaria and Romania's progress in the field of justice and home affairs, calling on the countries to show more zeal in the fight against high-level corruption.
For Bulgaria, it also says improvement is needed on the handling of organised crime.

"The findings of the European commission are not surprising for us. We did not expect the interim report at this stage to be 100 percent positive," said Betina Joteva of the Bulgarian mission to the EU.

But she added: "The Bulgarian side is committed at the highest political level to strictly follow all requirements" so that the final annual report, expected in July, is more positive.

The Romanian side was equally unruffled.

"The reports are fair and factual and reflect the cooperation between the Romanian government and the European commission," said Theodora Doris Mircea, spokesperson of the Romanian mission to the EU.

She noted that these are only interim reports and there is still time for Bucharest to make progress before publication of the more comprehensive assessments.

The interim reports highlight the concrete areas where the commission thinks the main problems lie so such issues can be tackled before July.

But despite the criticism, the two reports also show the countries' governments have been making an effort. They also prove the "mechanism for cooperation and verification" - set up for Bulgaria and Romania and of which the interim reports are part - is showing results, commission spokesperson Mark Gray said on Monday.

"But to maintain credibility, further efforts are needed," he underlined.

Under Bulgaria and Romania's accession treaties – setting out the terms and conditions of the countries' EU membership - if Sofia and Bucharest fall short of EU standards in certain areas, such as the economy, the internal market, and justice and home affairs, the EU can decide to take certain punishment measures - the so-called safeguard clauses.

The countries' accession packages represent the closest-ever monitoring imposed on a country joining the bloc, following concern in some national capitals that the two states were not sufficiently prepared when they joined on 1 January 2007.

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