Thursday, March 27, 2008

Romanian lessons for Macedonian justice reform

Measures should be in place and made irreversible before, not after, a candidate country joins the EU. says former Romanian Justice minister Monica Macovei, currently an advisor for the Macedonian government.

By Valentina Pop for Southeast European Times -- 24/03/08

The main lesson both the EU and Macedonia are learning from Romania's accession is that reforms and anti-corruption measures have to be made irreversible before joining the EU -- not afterwards, when the political will decreases, former Romanian Justice minister Monica Macovei said in an interview for Southeast European Times.

Macovei was broadly acclaimed by the EU for her bold reforms in the judiciary and fight against corruption, the main problem Romania faced before becoming a member state in 2007. Though not politically affiliated, Macovei was forced out of office during a government reshuffle in the spring of 2007. She is currently advising the government in Skopje in the field of justice reform.

Asked if she sees any consequences for candidate countries like Macedonia, after the EU's experience with Romania, Macovei answered: "Definitely, yes."

"The major consequence for the EU should be to take into account only fulfillments and well-established good practices rather then promises or pieces of legislation, little or not enforced. All of this is connected to political will, which proved to decrease dramatically after EU accession," she said.

"Looking back, I think we should have expected this, as a direct effect of fighting high-level corruption in countries where there are corrupt politicians. They are the decision makers and they fight back whenever their 'immunity' from criminal investigations is endangered or when they risk losing assets and privileges gained during a foggy transition," she said. "This is why for the next accession wave, the EU must ensure that reforms, in particular reforming the political class through anticorruption measures, are being seriously fulfilled and the process is truly irreversible."

For EU candidate countries, Macovei expects that the lesson learned is "to promote politicians and professional personnel willing and capable to initiate, support and push for deep, painful and real reforms, even if political sacrifices are required. Irreversible, real changes are what people in the candidate countries want and must be given. When this happens, EU accession comes naturally."

The most stringent steps the Macedonian government should take, in Macovei's view, are to set up a consolidated database system for law enforcement agencies and to fully enforce the special investigative measures in criminal cases, while also guaranteeing civil rights. Further amendments to the law on political funding and campaigns are also needed, in order to ensure full transparency, control and sanctions.

Macedonia also needs to enforce the law regarding conflicts of interests and to ensure transparency in the administration, the former justice minister added. "In general, efforts are needed for a full and proper enforcement of the already existing provisions in the fight against corruption. The domestic efforts have been supported by the European Commission and other international actors present in Macedonia, and I am convinced that this support will increase in the next future," she said.

Regarding Romanian measures that could be adopted by Macedonia or other candidate countries, Macovei highlighted the Anti-corruption Directorate, whose prosecutors investigate high level corruption and fraud. "The selection of prosecutors working in such a unit is vital," she said. "They must possess strong individual independence and professionalism. In addition, special investigative means, funds and financial specialists must be at the full disposal of such a unit. Macedonia has a unit of prosecutors in charge of organised crime and corruption, which investigated important cases within the last year and whose prosecutors are being trained intensively."

"However, further steps are needed, in particular regarding the use of special investigative means and secret surveillance measures. Organised crime and corruption cannot be tackled with the old means of investigations. In Macedonia, I am currently working with the domestic authorities and international actors on strengthening the enforcement of the current legislation on surveillance measures an on expanding its application," Macovei explained.

Another useful measure aimed at tackling and preventing corruption is to define conflict of interest as a crime, as well as to do "integrity testing" when civil servants are suspected of corruption. Macovei said she is proposing in Macedonia the crime of "illicit enrichment", as provided by the UN Convention Against Corruption.

"I would also like to point out that some provisions of the Macedonian taxation law are more advanced than in Romania. There is a 70% taxation measure for those assets which cannot be legally justified. A consistent enforcement of this measure started at the beginning of 2008," said the former Romanian justice minister.

In respect to the immovability of judges and prosecutors, Macovei said Macedonia has recently solved this problem by setting up a Judicial Council for judges, while a Council for Prosecutors will be set up during 2008. Both judges and prosecutors in Macedonia currently have so-called life mandates (until the retirement age).

However, both Romania and Macedonia, as well as other post-communist countries, skipped the first step necessary to reform the judicial system -- a nationwide test of the professional capacity and integrity of the existing judges and prosecutors, Macovei said.

"Unfortunately, both Romania and Macedonia hurried to provide all members of the judicial system with independence and immovability without a simple verification as to who were these individuals who would be receiving such guarantees," she said. "The expectation, shared by many, was that once given independence and immovability by law, members of the communist judiciary would become fully independent professionals." This expectation, Macovei said, proved to be wrong.

"We now have many judges and prosecutors feeling 'independent' enough to be corrupt, unprofessional and incompetent and claim 'independence' whenever there is criticism," she said. "The cleaning of the system, now entrusted to the judicial councils, does not take place. These councils, which are not accountable -- and I have in view mainly the Romanian example -- operate like a co-operative, protecting the wrongs in the system."

The main challenges for the Macedonian government are the same as for the Romanian one, Macovei said. These include maintaining political will of the government, reaching a political consensus and gathering support for reforms, taking steps towards reforming the political class, and ensuring that anticorruption measures are actually enforced and made irreversible.

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