Thursday, January 29, 2015

EU Says Romanian Fight Against Crime on Track, Bulgaria Stalls

(Bloomberg) -- Romania has achieved “impressive” progress in fighting high-level corruption and organized crime, while Bulgarian policy changes stalled on political turmoil, the European Union said in a report on the bloc’s poorest states.

“Romania is on the right course and needs to stick to it. Tackling corruption remains the biggest challenge and the biggest priority,” European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said in a statement. Bulgaria’s judicial reform progress “has been slow” on political uncertainty and “further steps are needed,” he said.

The two countries that joined the 28-nation bloc in 2007 are judged to be among the EU’s most corrupt along with Greece and Italy, according to Berlin-based research organization Transparency International. The Black Sea nations have had repeated warnings to fight corruption harder to ensure a fair distribution of EU aid. Romania, the bigger of the two, stands to receive 35 billion euros ($40 billion) in EU aid through 2020. Bulgaria will get about 16 billion euros.


“Responses to the well-known problems in area of corruption and organized crime have remained piecemeal and lacking in overall strategic direction,” the commission said about Bulgaria. “There are very few examples where high-level cases of corruption or organized crime have been brought to conclusion in court.”

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov regained power on Nov. 7 after five government changes in two years. His first government was ousted by anti-austerity protests in 2013. The Socialist administration of former premier Plamen Oresharski resigned in July following the failure of the country’s fourth-largest lender and protests against a corrupt political system.
Efforts Intensified

Bulgaria’s parliament adopted a judicial reform strategy last week, which needs “to be implemented for change to be convincingly shown,” the commission said.

Romania’s new President Klaus Iohannis pledged to continue fighting corruption and urged Parliament to lift the immunity of all lawmakers under investigation. Romania’s efforts to curb graft intensified before presidential elections last year as prosecutors probed high-profile politicians from Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s party, businessmen and a constitution court judge. The cases involved Microsoft licenses, election fraud and tax evasion.

Former Romanian Economy Minister Codrut Seres and former Communication Minister Zsolt Nagy were sentenced to prison this week for undermining state economy.

“The action taken by the key judicial and integrity institutions to address high-level corruption has maintained an impressive momentum,” the commission said about Romania. “Many legislative issues remain outstanding” and “there continues to be inconsistency in some court decisions, which raises concern.”

The commission will continue monitoring the two countries and will issue the next two reports in one year, the commission said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Slav Okov in Sofia at sokov@bloomberg.net; Andra Timu in Bucharest at atimu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: James M. Gomez atjagomez@bloomberg.net Elizabeth Konstantinova, Andras Gergely

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