Wednesday, July 21, 2010

NYT: E.U. Scolds Romania for Faltering on Reforms

July 20, 2010
E.U. Scolds Romania for Faltering on Reforms
By STEPHEN CASTLE


BRUSSELS — Romania was publicly criticized on Tuesday as lacking in commitment to fight corruption as the European Union released a report that also praised Bulgaria for the growing momentum behind its reforms.

The document, from the European Commission, detailed how Romania and Bulgaria, which joined the European Union in 2007, were fighting rampant fraud, corruption and organized crime.

In doing so, it outlined some of the reasons behind doubts about whether either country was ready to become part of the European Union, which now has 27 members. While Bulgaria’s government was complemented on its efforts to root out serious problems, Romania was told that its performance revealed “important shortcomings.”

“Romania did not show sufficient political commitment,” the report said, “to support and provide direction to the reform process, and demonstrated a degree of unwillingness within the leadership of the judiciary to cooperate and take responsibility.”

Until recently, European officials had been more concerned about the failings in Bulgaria. Only last week, a separate report on fraud underlined the fact that Bulgaria remained a serious problem. It showed that one in five E.U. farm subsidy payments was subject to fraud.

Bulgaria and Romania have been under special scrutiny since they joined the Union because of concerns over high levels of corruption.

The very public criticism of Romania provoked an immediate response from its president, Traian Basescu, who acknowledged shortcomings but said the European Commission had gone too far in saying Romania was not meeting its E.U. obligations. “I think the phrasing is unfair, and therefore I must react and show that Romania is meeting its commitments, that we are determined to see them through,” he said at a news conference, Reuters reported.

The main reason for the severity of the commission’s language appears to be its anger at efforts in Romania to undermine the National Integrity Agency, which has been examining conflicts of interest and investigating people with unexplained wealth in Romania.

Amendments approved by the Romanian Parliament made it impossible to do the work the agency was set up to do and broke a promise Romania made when it joined the bloc, the commission said. The action on the amendments represents “a significant step back in the fight against corruption and breaches commitments Romania has taken upon accession,” the report said.

The report urged Romania to improve its judicial system and increase prosecution of high-level corruption and to improve the public procurement process. Similar recommendations were also made for Bulgaria, though they came accompanied by praise.

“For the first time, we see real political will in Bulgaria to push through reform,” said Mark Gray, a spokesman for the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union.

Bulgaria’s prime minister, Boiko Borisov, described the report on his country as the most positive so far from the commission. “But I also want to see where the criticisms are and prepare a plan to overcome them,” he added, according to Reuters.

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