Monday, July 7, 2008

Romania angers EU over corruption 'haven'

Friday 4 July 2008
EurActiv.com

EU Ambassadors have expressed concern after the Romanian Parliament passed decisions which effectively shelter high-ranking officials from prosecution over corruption charges, EurActiv.ro reports.

Background:

When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU on 1 January 2007, shortcomings remained in judicial reform and the fight against corruption - and in the case of Bulgaria, the fight against organised crime. These shortcomings carried the risk that Bulgaria and Romania would not be able to correctly apply Community law and that Bulgarians would not be able to fully enjoy their rights as EU citizens. In order to assist both countries, a Cooperation and Verification Mechanism was set up.

The latest annual reports on Bulgaria and Romania will be made public on 23 July. The reports are prepared by the Secretariat General under the authority of the Commission President in agreement with Vice-President Barrot.

EU Ambassadors in Bucharest met with members of the Romanian Parliament to voice their discontent over the country's non-compliance with previous commitments to crackdown on corruption.

Robin Barnett, the UK Ambassador, criticised recent decisions by the Constitutional Court whereby all investigations of high-ranking politicians must be sanctioned by the Parliament.

In passing the decision, the Parliament effectively provided shelter to former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and former Transport Minister Miron Mitrea, who are both being prosecuted for corruption.

The recent measures serve only to raise obstacles to the fight against corruption, Barnett was quoted as saying in the Romanian press. The British envoy also voiced dismay at a new decision whereby indictees are notified in advance of searches carried out on their premises by the judicial authorities.

"In case criminals consider Romania as a judicial haven inside the EU, all the member countries will be affected," Barnett said.

A similar position was expressed by Dutch Ambassador Jaap Werner, who warned that the EU expects the Romanian Parliament to contribute to the fight against corruption instead of upsetting judicial inquiries. He also expressed his regret that decisions cannot be taken in Parliament to prosecute high-ranking politicians, because MPs regularly fail to show up at plenary sessions, which then fall short of the necessary attendance to pass a vote.

Over the past year, several decisions by Romanian lawmakers marked a regression in the fight against corruption. In 2007, the Romanian Parliament amended the Criminal Code to require prosecutors to give advance warning prior to any searches involving political figures.

Positions:

Willem de Pauw, a Belgian prosecutor who is an EU expert, wrote a report, quoted in The Economist, which concludes: "Instead of progress in the fight against high-level corruption, Romania is regressing on all fronts […] if the Romanian anti-corruption effort keeps evaporating at the present pace, in an estimated six months' time Romania will be back where it was in 2003."

Foreign diplomats quoted in the same article said "the problem is that countries such as France pushed to get Romania into the EU early for their own reasons, whether financial or geopolitical. And the political pressure may now be to cover up, not expose, the problem. If the EU's July report on Romania is as anodyne as the previous one, suspicions will only grow".

Next steps:

  • 23 July: Commission reports on Bulgaria and Romania due.

Links

EU official documents Press articles

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