Published: Friday 17 July 2009
Just days before the European Commission publishes its regular assessment of Bulgaria and Romania's performance in the EU, Romanian MEPs today (17 July) blasted the draft text as incoherent and unfair, saying Bucharest could simply "reject" the report if substantial corrections are not introduced.
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 (CVM) 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. If applied, such an unprecedented decision would also 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 performer this time (EurActiv 13/02/09).
The next annual reports on Bulgaria and Romania are due to be published on 22 July. They 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. Recently the French Senate cautioned against "stigmatising" the EU's most recent members and suggested fine-tuning the CVM (EurActiv 30/06/09).
The eleven Romanian MEPs from the Socialist & Democrats group in the European Parliament issued a statement expressing "serious concern" about the draft report, which they claimed is of poor quality. "The publication of the report in its present form could create more problems that it can solve," the MEPs state. Since December 2008, Romania's PSD (Social Democrats) party have been part of a grand coalition with the EPP-affiliated PDL (Democratic Liberals), who are close to President Traian Basescu (EurActiv 15/12/09). "A situation could be reached whereby both the European Parliament and the Romanian government reject the report in its totality as undemocratic and counter-productive in the fight against corruption," the MEPs warned.
The reports on the state of play in Bulgaria and Romania in the fields of the judicial reform and the fight against corruption under the so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) will be published on 22 July. The MEPs blame the Commission for not offering any kind of technical consultation or financial support under the CVM framework. Given the lack of cooperation, "the EU executive must assume its part of guilt for the lack of progress," the MEPs state. In particular, the eleven MEPs deplored a Commission request that the Romanian parliament validate prosecution charges without the possibility of rejecting them. In the recent past, the Romanian parliament has sheltered high-ranking officials from prosecution over corruption charges (EurActiv 04/07/08).
Also, he criticised what he described as Commission pressure on parties to abandon their ideological differences during the legislative process. Adrian Severin, leader of the Romanian Socialist delegation and deputy group leader of the European Parliament's Socialist & Democrats (S&D) group, told EurActiv that in many of their assessments, the Commission representatives had shown an "anti-parliamentarian and anti-pluralist concept of a dictatorial character, undermining the rule of law principle". The Romanian MEP said that the problems identified by the Commission's report were not unfamiliar to the majority of the other EU countries, and therefore Romania would oppose the retention of the CVM, at least in its present form.
Commission spokesperson Mark Gray told EurActiv that he would not speculate on the MEPs' statement as he did not know what kind of draft they had seen. "The only report that matters is the one that will be presented on 22 July," he said. "All previous reports produced by the Commission have been fully endorsed by the Romanian government and unanimously agreed by all member states. We look forward to presenting the report and discussing this with the member states in due course."
Bulgaria happy with its own report
Bulgarian representatives reacted more favourably to the draft report on their country, which they received last Wednesday, reported Dnevnik, EurActiv's partner in Bulgaria. Sofia was worried that the Commission would propose imposing a "safeguard clause" on its court's decisions, making them invalid vis-à-vis the EU, but the suggestion was not in the end included in the draft.
Nikolay Kokinov, the city prosecutor of Sofia, saw the move as recognition that the work of the Bulgarian prosecution had improved. Miglena Tacheva, the justice minister, first called the draft "good", while European Affairs Minister Gergana Passy said it was "much better that hints of what may have been in it". Meglena Plugchieva, Bulgaria's deputy prime minister responsible for EU funds, was categorical in stating that this report was better than last year's. "We leave a very good basis on which the next government can build, so that in 2010 the CVM for Bulgaria can be lifted," she said. The centre-right GERB party, which recently won national elections (EurActiv 16/07/09), is set to form a government on the same day that the report is published.