Thursday, July 23, 2009

EU Sees ‘Reform Momentum’ in Romania and Bulgaria

By Adam Brown and Elizabeth Konstantinova

July 22 (Bloomberg) -- The European Union sees “reform momentum” in Romania and Bulgaria and will reassess the two EU nations’ efforts next year to combat corruption and organized crime.“Progress is there, it needs to be reinforced,” EU spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said today after the Brussels- based bloc issued a report on the two former communist countries.

“There is no room for complacency.” In Romania, “the necessary structures are mostly in place” and Bulgaria “still has to work on the structural changes.”The Black Sea nations joined the EU in 2007 with warnings that they both had to step up their fight against corruption. Romania, the bigger of the two, stands to receive 32 billion euros ($45 billion) in EU aid through 2013, while Bulgaria could gain 11 billion euros.Today’s report came a year after the EU’s first annual report on the Balkan nations’ fight against corruption in which it suspended 500 million euros in subsidies to Bulgaria, accusing it of failure to crack down on graft and organized crime.

Romania was let off with a warning to overhaul its judiciary.Bulgaria and Romania, the poorest and newest members of the EU, also rank as the bloc’s most corrupt, according to Transparency International. EU warnings have prompted probes of cabinet ministers, businessmen and lawmakers. Neither has managed to convict a senior politician.

‘Too Slow’

The report said Bulgarian measures to fight corruption are “too slow” and it needs to achieve results “all across the board.” It also cited Romanian “shortcomings” and issued 21 recommendations for Bulgaria and 16 for Romania.“The commission has seen some new momentum in Bulgaria’s efforts to improve the judiciary and combat corruption since its report in July 2008,” today’s report said. “However, the steps are confined to the technical level and have limited impact.

They are not backed up by a broad political strategy or a convincing strategy to make the fight against corruption and organized crime the top priority for Bulgaria.”The report recommended Bulgaria develop specific structures to judge high level crime, strengthen regional anti-corruption councils, make it easier to freeze or confiscate assets of criminals, better safeguard whistle blowers, better monitor the impact of anti-graft laws and simplify criminal proceedings.Past AdministrationThe report on Bulgaria released today evaluates the work of the outgoing government of Socialist Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev who lost July 5 elections to Boiko Borissov and his three-year-old party GERB, which stands for Citizens of European Development of Bulgaria.

Borissov, who is expected to announce his Cabinet line up tomorrow, pledged to pull out the country of its worst economic slump in 11 years and root out corruption.“There are no big surprises in the report,” Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor Boris Velchev told reporters in Parliament in Sofia. “We’ve made significant progress, but more needs to be done and our work continues.”Prosecutors in Romania, which Transparency International ranks as the EU’s most corrupt nation, have accused almost 20 Cabinet ministers and former ministers of corruption since the country joined the EU although none have been convicted.“Romania has taken a number of welcome steps since the 2008 report,” today’s report said. “However, Romania is still struggling to overcome the fact that the criminal and civil codes were never fully revised.”

Better Monitoring

The report recommended that Romania ensure prompt investigations of senior officials, promote measures to prevent corruption and better monitor the efficiency of the justice system in conduction corruption trials.“The report overall is positive with the conclusion that Romania is winning in reforms,” Virgil Andreies, president of Romania’s Supreme Court, said in a news conference in Bucharest today.

“There are still issues to address.”The entry of Bulgaria and Romania marked the EU’s second expansion into the former Soviet bloc to establish market-based rules for industries ranging from energy and transportation to telecommunications and banking. Ten countries, including Poland and seven other nations in formerly communist eastern Europe, joined the EU in May 2004 and swelled the bloc’s population to about 460 million.

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