Thursday, July 9, 2009

French warn against stigmatising Bulgaria, Romania

EurActiv.com
Published: Tuesday 30 June 2009

Just weeks before the European Commission is due to publish an assessment on Bulgaria and Romania's accession to the EU, the French Senate cautioned against "stigmatising" the EU's most recent members and suggested fine-tuning the Union's Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, set up to assist the two countries after their entry.

Background:

When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU on 1 January 2007, shortcomings remained regarding 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 their citizens would not be able to fully enjoy their rights as EU citizens.

A Cooperation and Verification Mechanism was set up to assist both countries. Moreover, the European Commission retained the right to use special safeguards. Such safeguards are included in both countries' accession treaties and can be invoked against new member states as a last resort. If used, the process could lead the EU to refuse to recognise court decisions or even freeze payments of EU funds. Also, if applied, such an unprecedented decision could badly hurt the countries' reputations.

In a turnaround compared to previous monitoring reports, where Bulgaria was invariably portrayed as the laggard in meeting EU standards on judicial reform and fighting corruption (EurActiv 24/07/09), the Commission unveiled new reports last February which depicted Romania as the slow learner this time (EurActiv 13/02/09).

The next annual reports on Bulgaria and Romania are expected in September, but no exact date has been communicated so far. The reports are prepared by the EU executive's secretariat-general under the authority of Commission President José Manuel Barroso, in agreement with Vice-President Jacques Barrot.

A Dutch minister recently asked the European Commission to consider activating safeguard clauses against Romania and Bulgaria should monitoring reports due this summer fail to acknowledge progress in fighting corruption (EurActiv 18/06/09).

In a report to the French Senate, members Pierre Bernard-Reymond (UMP, EPP-affiliated), and Michel Billout (a member of the Communist, Republican and Citizen group), state that the expected report on Bulgaria and Romania, due in September, may "raise doubts among other member states over the conditions under which enlargement has taken place".

The two rapporteurs, who have conducted extensive study visits to the two countries, also consider that the reports may be perceived by Bulgaria and Romania as "excessive stigmatisation" of the two countries. Senators Reymond and Billout also rule out the eventual use of a "safeguard clause", which would annul mutual recognition in judicial affairs between these countries and the EU, describing it as counterproductive for all sides.

As an example, the rapporteurs recall that 60 European arrest warrants were successfully issued between France and Bulgaria in 2007. The safeguard clause can be used only in the first three years after accession; that is, until 1 January 2010. But the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) is open-ended. Romania has asked for the mechanism to be shelved, while Bulgaria advocates its adaptation. Reymond and Billout slam the weaknesses of the CVM, which in their view does not provide clear indicators of progress made.

But they are in favour of keeping the monitoring mechanism, provided that it is fine-tuned to put the emphasis on "cooperation". France, for instance, recognises the importance of twinning law-enforcement administrations, the rapporteurs point out. The French senators also advocate more determined action against organised crime at EU level, as in their view, the phenomenon does not only concern the two EU newcomers.

Reymond and Billout also write that there are lessons to be learned from Bulgaria and Romania's accession for future EU enlargements, arguing that stronger compliance should be required before accession takes place. This is already the case concerning Croatia's EU bid, they point out.

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