Monday, November 17, 2008

IHT: Corruption in Bulgaria and Romania

Sunday, November 16, 2008

When the European Commission decided in September 2006 to admit Bulgaria and Romania into the European Union, nobody pretended they were really ready.

The thinking was that EU membership would keep them safely out of Russia's orbit. There were also hopes that joining the European political mainstream would accelerate their efforts to rein in organized crime and corruption. The latter was a fairly astounding miscalculation.

What actually happened, as Doreen Carvajal and Stephen Castle have reported in detail in the IHT, was that the prospect of billions in EU subsidies only encouraged the criminals to diversify from smuggling and extortion and to burrow into the political and judicial systems - the better to siphon off EU money.

Today, Bulgaria is rated by Transparency International as the most corrupt nation in the 27-nation EU. The country could lose almost half a billion euros in aid that was frozen in July because of fears that it was vulnerable. Romania is also a cause of serious concern.

This state of affairs is devastating at all levels. The Bulgarian and Romanian people badly need the EU's development aid. And the shocking reports of corruption are hardening the resistance of other Europeans to further expanding the EU, thus lessening the chances of Turkey or Ukraine to ever join.

Perhaps most grievously, the spread of corruption through all levels of government and society, as in Russia and some other Balkan countries, makes it far more difficult to eradicate everywhere.

The IHT articles chronicled how those who tried to expose or combat the criminals in Bulgaria were regularly threatened, maimed or killed, and how these crimes routinely go unsolved. The result, the reporters were told, was that people have come to accept corruption as an unavoidable fact of life and have become apathetic about fighting it.

The wrong conclusion would be to close the EU door forever. The right one would be to ensure that those who pass through it are ready and get all the support they need to be full and healthy members.

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