Thursday, July 21, 2011

NYT: E.U. Warns Bulgaria and Romania on Reforms

By STEPHEN CASTLE

BRUSSELS — Bulgaria on Wednesday was warned of serious deficiencies in its judicial system, urged to get more convictions from its fight against organized crime and told that its battle against corruption had yet to lead to convincing results.

The warning, in a formal assessment from the European Commission, highlighted continuing worries about law and order in Bulgaria and Romania, four years after they joined the bloc.

Both nations are subject to a European monitoring mechanism intended to ensure that reforms take place and will continue for another year when the five-year period will be assessed; the final findings could have an effect on the level aid sent to the two countries, and could also limit prospects for their citizens’ passport-free travel in the European Union.

This year’s report on Bulgaria was more critical than that of 2010, which appeared to give the benefit of the doubt to government. It is led by Prime Minister Boiko M. Borisov, who was elected in 2009 on a pledge to improve law and order. The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, said in its report that the number of acquittals in cases involving high-level corruption, fraud and organized crime “have exposed serious deficiencies in judicial practice in Bulgaria.”

Though the commission praised Bulgarian police efforts to tackle crime gangs, it said the results needed significant improvement. “The fight against high-level corruption has not yet led to convincing results,” it said.

Mark Gray, a commission spokesman, said in Brussels: “Both Romania and Bulgaria have made some progress. The laws are largely in place if not totally concrete. We are not yet seeing those laws turned into concrete actions, whether in the case of corruption and organized crime in Bulgaria and whether in prosecution and convictions in Romania.”

Mr. Gray said that in Bulgaria, the issue of “private and public donations to police have raised concerns” but that its government had “shown determination and commitment in driving the reform process.”

Romania received a less critical report, though it was told that “progress in the fight against corruption still needs to be pursued” and that “urgent action is needed to accelerate a number of important high-level corruption trials.”

“The effectiveness of the fight against corruption is hindered by serious weaknesses in recovering the proceeds of crime,” the commission’s report said.

The assessment was released two months before European ministers are expected to debate whether to admit Romania and Bulgaria, the two newest E.U. members, to the Schengen zone, which allows travelers to cross frontiers without showing passports. Though the report is not technically connected to that application, it is unlikely to placate France, Germany, the Netherlands and other countries that have called for a delay over the countries’ admission.

The Romanian president, Traian Basescu, said his government had the “determination and commitment” to continue fighting crime and corruption.

“The report is correct and shows the progress made to achieve the objectives,” Mr. Basescu said in a speech on state television, Bloomberg News reported. It “also pinpoints the perpetual problems of the judiciary which affect the credibility of the system as a whole and Romania’s credibility as well.”

Mr. Borisov, who has himself criticized Bulgaria’s judges, said he welcomed the findings and pledged to act on them, according to novinite.com, a news agency Web site in Sofia.

“Personally, I am glad that this report exists, and that this mechanism is in place,” he said. “It was introduced for a purpose several years ago, because imagine what it would be like if we had to evaluate the work of our own Parliament and our own government. That is why this report is friendly indeed; it is a matter of partnership, and it is extremely important with its conclusions and precise recommendations and an actual work schedule that it provides for us by the next summer.”

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