(BRUSSELS) - The European Commission criticised Bulgaria and Romania Tuesday for a lack of progress in fighting corruption and organised crime, urging the EU's two newest members to prioritise the issues.
In a report on reforms in the countries, which joined the bloc in 2007, the EU's executive arm called on the authorities in both to intensify their efforts to see arrests translate into convictions.
The report took particular aim at Bulgaria, citing the "continuously poor results of the judicial system in investigating corruption and organised crimes cases," said commission spokesman Mark Gray.
Improvements are required to achieve "shorter and more effective investigation and court procedures," he added.
The commission also said that "allegations into serious corruption in relation to appointments to high-level jobs in the judiciary need to be fully investigated."
Bulgaria's foreign ministry said the report "correctly reflects our progress as well as the need for further improvement," describing the document as "objective."
"Neither Bulgarian society, nor its partners are happy with the justice system," Bulgarian Justice Minister Margarite Popova told national radio. "The justice system must show it is independent and deliver concrete results."
While there have been numerous arrests in recent months for kidnapping and misappropriation of EU funds, the Bulgarian government has accused the courts of taking too long to sentence the culprits.
The justice system now has an "enormous responsibility" ahead of a report by Brussels, expected in June, that will look at the country's general progress, Popova noted.
The commission was less severe with, but still critical of, Romania where "the pace of progress has not been maintained" in terms of reforms.
It added that there had been no improvement in the quality of appointments to the judiciary while the system had been "undermined by net staff losses."
There were no "concrete results" visible that the judicial system was improving, with serious delays in corruption cases and too light sentences doled out by courts.
In general the two nations were exhorted to make the issue a "national priority," the commission said.
Romania's justice minister promised quick adoption of penal and civil codes, as well as a bill that would shorten court procedures.
"We will continue to back institutional stability to fight corruption and guarantee the independence of the justice system," Catalin Predoiu said.
The report will heighten the feeling among some that Bulgaria and Romania were allowed to join the EU before they were ready, in the euphoria that followed the fall of the Iron Curtain in Europe.