Monday, July 21, 2008

Bulgaria and Romania taken to task by Brussels over corruption

ELITSA VUCHEVA

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – The European Commission is on Wednesday (23 July) set to strongly criticise Bulgaria and Romania for their failure to take effective action against corruption.

The language will be particularly harsh towards Bulgaria – but neither of the countries will face concrete sanctions at this stage, according to the reports on the justice and home affairs situation in the EU newest member states seen by EUobserver.

The Bulgaria report welcomes efforts made by the country in the area, but says they are insufficient as initiatives are rarely followed by concrete results.

Addressing the issue of persistent corruption problems, it also notes that only few cases have actually been effectively dealt with.

"While there has been movement on a few cases and widespread publicity given to the 'war on corruption,' these cases represent a negligible share of crimes effectively punished in Bulgaria."

Additionally, "the fight against high-level corruption and organised crime is not producing results."

"Institutions and procedures look good on paper but do not produce good results in practice; recommendations are made but are not followed up. The core problems remain," the paper goes on.

'A growing sense of frustration'

The commission also underlines that while much assistance has been provided to the country, Sofia has not been making full use of it.

As a result, it says, "a growing sense of frustration" is developing "amongst member states who have offered support."

"They are withdrawing their experts or are reluctant to provide additional expertise because of lack of transparency and results in their dealings with the Bulgarian administration and poor results."

In a separate report, the commission will also assess the management of EU funds in Bulgaria, slamming the country for poor handling of the bloc's money.

"Bulgaria… has to make the commitment to cleanse its administration and ensure that the generous support it receives from the EU… is not siphoned off by corrupt officials, operating together with organised crime," says this second commission's draft.

Additionally, Brussels is to announce the freezing of €600 million for Bulgaria under the PHARE pre-accession programme, and to threaten Sofia with losing these and more millions of pre-accession funds for good if it does not take necessary measures.

But despite the shortcomings and the unusually strong language about a fully-fledged member state, the commission is to stop short of punishing Sofia, as "for the time being, [it] considers support to be more effective than sanctions."

Nevertheless, Brussels stresses that the formal monitoring of the justice and home affairs field in both countries will continue "for some time to come." The unprecedented surveillance was established amid concerns that the two were not sufficiently prepared for membership when they joined the EU at the beginning of last year.

Romania: an 'encouraging start'

Romania comes off the better of the two countries. The criticism it receives is less harsh than that of its southern neighbour – and a separate report on its management of EU money is not to be released.

The Romanian document stresses that progress is still needed in both the fight against corruption and judicial reform; that the reform process is "volatile" and "there are too few final convictions in high level corruption cases".

It also says that "the Parliament has to demonstrate an unequivocal commitment to rooting out high level corruption" - a reference to the institution's delay in examining corruption cases involving a former prime minister and other top officials.

But Bucharest is judged to have had a "modest, but encouraging start" and have re-established "its commitment to judicial reform and the fight against corruption."

According to the commission, the country "presents a mixed picture. It has put the fundamental elements of a functioning system in place. But the foundation is fragile and decisions on corruption are highly politicised."

The conclusion for Romania is that it is generally "starting to move in the right direction. The new institutions and processes need time to prove their effectiveness and should be allowed to continue on a steady course."

By contrast, "Bulgaria has taken steps in the right direction … But improvements are still superficial – Bulgaria has to translate words into deeds and deliver on its commitment to serious reform."

The final versions of the draft documents will only be ready and presented by the commission on Wednesday.

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