Saturday, February 14, 2009

Romania, Bulgaria risk more EU aid cuts



12.02.2009 @ 17:26 CET

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – Romania has gone backwards in the fight against corruption in the past six months, while Bulgaria registered some progress after seeing its pre-accession funds frozen in July, the European Commission has said.

"It is important that the Romanian authorities regain momentum on judicial reform and fight against corruption so as to reverse certain backward movements of recent months", commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger told a press conference on Thursday (12 February) when presenting the two reports.

The Romanian parliament was the main reason for the poor marks from Brussels. It blocked high-level corruption cases that needed the legislature's formal approval in order to go to court.

The parliament also attempted to destabilise the anti-corruption prosecutor's unit and to introduce amendments to the penal procedure code which would have "severely restricted the rights of the prosecution", the report shows.

On the positive side, the anti-corruption agency has continued to deliver high-level cases. Between 30 November 2009 and 21 January 2009, it indicted a former prime minister, a former vice prime minister, a former minister of labour and three members of parliament.

A full report, which might look into the EU funds management issue as well, is expected in the summer of 2009.

"It will be crucial for Romania to achieve significant, irreversible progress by then [summer 2009]. Romania must demonstrate the existence of an autonomously functioning, stable judiciary which is able to detect and sanction corruption and preserve the rule of law," the report concludes.

On Bulgaria, the commission acknowledges the "efforts" made by the authorities since July, especially the setting up of joint investigation teams composed of prosecutors, intelligence officers and policemen to fight organised crime groups. But it says it wants "convincing and tangible results".

More pay cuts possible

Although the current reports make no reference to EU funds, the conclusions suggest that Bulgaria made more efforts after having its pre-accession funds frozen, while Romania, which in July 2008 got away without sanctions, did not.

When presenting the July 2008 report, the Commission made a link only for Bulgaria between that document and the decision to suspend EU funds worth over €500 million due to fraud and corruption.

In Romania's case, although a similar decision to suspend agricultural payments worth €142 million was taken in June, no such political linkage was made.

Several member states are said to support the political linkage between the upcoming justice report in the summer of 2009 and a potential funds freeze, if no progress takes place. Supporters of this idea, along with the commission, are Germany, France, UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Austria.

The new Romanian government, which was in place only since January this year after the parliamentary elections end of November, is committed to fighting high level corruption, Mihnea Motoc, Romania's ambassador to the EU told EUobserver.

He rejected any connection "at this stage" between the justice monitoring and EU funds.

"The fact remains that EU funds are reimbursed under regulations and procedures that are very well defined and that have their own means for insuring their proper implementation, including sanctions and corrections. I don't see any linkage in the content of the report and a threat on the use of EU funds by Romania," he said.

But German MEP Ingeborg Grassle, member of the parliament's budgetary control committee, told this website that she was going to make a formal request to the commission for a special report on the use of EU funds in Romania.

She said she was "not at all surprised" by the critical tone of the report on Romania.

The current economic crisis and the need for big EU donors like Germany to save money was also going to lead to more questions on how European funds were spent, she added.

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