The European Commission (EC) warned Bulgaria and Romania on Wednesday (June 27th) that they must step up efforts in fighting corruption and crime to avoid future sanctions.“High-level corruption is still one point of weakness; both governments are aware of this,” EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini said as the EC released its reports on the two countries’ progress in meeting specific benchmarks that were set out ahead of their entry into the Union at the beginning of the year.
The reports focus mainly on the fulfillment of targets in the areas of judicial reform and the fight against corruption and organised crime. Concluding that both countries have made “some progress”, the EC did not recommend the imposition of safeguard clauses, but said it would continue monitoring them for at least another year.
Bulgaria has “largely met” one of its six benchmarks by adopting constitutional amendments ensuring the independence and accountability of the judiciary, according to the EC. It also has made some progress in improving the transparency of the judicial process and in enhancing the accountability, professionalism and efficiency of its judiciary.
The EC also found that Bulgaria has made substantial progress in preventing and fighting corruption at the border and within local government, but showed little headway in curbing graft at the highest political levels. “Overall, progress achieved in the judicial treatment of high-level corruption cases in Bulgaria is still insufficient,” said the report.
The EC was equally critical of Sofia’s efforts in combating serious and organised crime.
“Contract killings continue to be of great concern, and in particular recent killings of local politicians since January,” the report noted. “To date no prosecution and conviction has taken place.”
The report on Romania concluded that the country “has achieved some progress in the reform of its judicial system” and “substantial progress” in creating a National Integrity Agency, whose responsibilities include verifying assets, incompatibilities and potential conflicts of interest.
Like its southern neighbour, Romania made insufficient progress in the judicial treatment of high-level corruption and “some progress” in curbing graft within local government. Urging the two governments to move from the adoption of laws to implementation, the EC outlined further measures they should take.
“While safeguard clauses are not being proposed by the Commission at this stage, we will remain vigilant,” EC President Jose Manuel Barroso said on Wednesday. “The further changes which are necessary require a long term commitment. We will co-operate in partnership with Bulgaria and Romania and continue to report on a regular basis.”
Bulgaria’s ruling coalition described the report as “objective” and “balanced,” while opposition politicians saw it as proof of government failures. In Bucharest, Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu described it as “fair and severe”.