By Svetla Dimitrova
Bulgaria and Romania made some progress in combating corruption and organised crime, but both need to address several issues to bring their judiciaries in line with EU standards, the European Commission (EC) said on Wednesday (February 8th).
Romania needs to continue steps to implement a criminal code, improve judicial accountability and make judicial rulings that deter corruption, according to the EC. The report said Bulgaria needs to pass a comprehensive asset seizure law, improve the judiciary and address corruption.
The EU has formally monitored the two countries since they joined the Union in 2007 to help them deal with shortcomings in justice, corruption and internal affairs, and has issued progress reports twice a year. The EC’s final report in July will indicate if monitoring under its Co-Operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) should end.
“All options are on the table here and that’s why it’s so important that the two countries, with their very different recommendations, make progress in the coming months,” EC spokesman Mark Gray told SETimes.
“We’ve never compared the two countries and we have no intention of doing that now, and they will be judged in the summer on the basis of their situation, not the situation of the other country in the mechanism.”
The EC cited a specialised court and prosecution office for organised crime that began work last month, and “significant results” delivered by the Commission for the Identification and Forfeiture of Criminal Assets as some of the main developments in Bulgaria since July 2011.
It noted a newly created body on conflicts of interest that had “taken its first decisions”, and that the Balkan nation had taken measures to improve judicial practice, the organisation of the prosecution and co-operation between different authorities.
Borislav Tsekov, the head of the Sofia-based Institute for Modern Politics, told SETimes that one of the most critical findings in the report was that Bulgaria still “needs to ensure transparency in the appointments in the judiciary”, as the interior ministry must take urgent steps to improve the level of professionalism during police actions and related to “free and fair elections”.
Concerning allegations of electoral fraud, Gray told SETimes that “it’s an issue of concern” for the Commission. He urged “the prosecution services in Bulgaria to follow up on these suggested allegations of electoral fraud”.
The EC report on Romania cited the enforcement of a new civil code, steps to accelerate trials in high-level corruption cases, and progress made by parliament towards the adoption of a law on extended confiscation as some of the main developments since July 2011.
It praised the country’s National Anti-Corruption Directorate and the National Integrity Agency for continued work on a series of important cases, including “a significant number of senior politicians and officials”.
Asked to comment on the recent two-year sentence given former Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase for corruption, Gray noted that this was still a first-instance verdict that would likely be subject to appeal.
“What is important in this context is that what we do need to be seeing is a consistent trend of progress,” he said.
According to Alexandru Cumpanasu, director of the Association for Implementing Democracy NGO, the CVM should not end for his country.
“It remains the only instrument used as a means of positive pressure to determine the government to pass reforms, make changes in the field of justice,” he told SETimes.
“It is indeed less effective now than it used to be before Romania’s accession, but for it, we wouldn’t have had any progress in this area. I think the conclusions of today’s report on Romania’s judiciary status are well grounded.”